Alumni, Indigenous Education

Alumna’s dedication and inspiration wins Indspire award

November 30, 2016

By Diane Luckow

Educator Denise Augustine, who holds an SFU master of education, is the director of aboriginal education and learner engagement with the Cowichan School District.

Over the past eight years she has implemented ambitious improvements to the district’s Aboriginal cultural knowledge and curriculum, resulting in Aboriginal graduation rates that have soared from 30 per cent to 58 per cent.

Her achievements were recognized in November when she won an Indigenous Educator Award for leadership from Indspire, an Indigenous-led charity that invests in the education of Indigenous people.

What is the secret to Augustine’s success?

A member of the Chemainus First Nation, she began from a First Nations perspective, examining the overall problem before determining ways to solve it.

“Our way of seeing the world is more holistic,” she says. “It quickly became very clear there was little knowledge throughout the district of who this area’s Indigenous people are. Our students didn’t see themselves reflected at all in the curriculum or teaching practices.”

To remedy this, Augustine began by working with teachers and administrators. She collaborated with the B.C. Ministry of Children and Families, and local government, to develop an annual workshop that uses roleplay to help teachers and administrators understand the local Hul’q’umi’num’ society and culture as it was before colonization, and then after.

“These workshops disrupt people’s beliefs about our people’s history—enough that they start to ask questions and make positive change,” says Augustine. “They quickly move from knowing nothing, to engagement.”

She then began implementing changes to district curriculum, introducing new programs highlighting Aboriginal culture, knowledge and history. These include Coast Salish Studies 8 and a one-semester academic program comprising five to six courses in which students in grades 9 to 12 spend as much time as possible out on the land.

In the end, she says, helping Aboriginal students reach their full potential is about recognizing that Indigenous communities have a lot to offer.

“By embracing the diversity of our learners and our communities, the world would be a better place.”