Juanita Muise started teaching grade 5/6 in Bearskin Lake First Nation in September 2017. Originally from Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland, Juanita completed her Bachelor of Education at Nipissing University and her Master of Professional Education at the University of Western Ontario.
What do you do when you’re an Indigenous person from Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland, who values the importance of successfully incorporating First Nations, Metis, and Inuit culture and history into the classroom? You teach! Which is why Juanita Muise ended up teaching grade 5/6 at Michikan Lake School in Bearskin Lake First Nation. Juania wanted to “work in a school where local First Nation culture is at the heart of the curriculum and pedagogy”.
Juanita is passionate about providing an Indigenous perspective and ‘touch’ to the learning environment, something that is evident in the lessons she creates for her students. She particularly expresses her culture through the arts.
Her love of music, singing, and visual arts allow her to connect with her students and to incorporate a learning and understanding of Indigenous culture into her lessons.
In her classroom she has taught a wide range of lessons: hand drumming with her traditional drum, African drumming, body percussion, creating art inspired by Indigenous artists, and Picasso’s cubism.
Throughout the school, everyone can see the opportunities Juanita has created for her students to learn language and critical thinking skills through art. From covering the entrance to the school with students’ artwork, to helping decorate the stage for the Christmas concert, to showing the students how art can be found in recycling garbage, to displaying African hand drums in the classroom, Juanita has nurtured her students’ creativity. She also helps the students maintain a relationship with nature by taking them out sliding, organising wiener roasts, going for traditional medicine walks, playing cultural hunting games, and setting rabbit snares. “Unlike any school [I’ve be in] in the South I showed up for work [to find] a dead caribou in the lobby. My students learned to skin and cut the meat and helped prepare a feast for everyone in the school,” Juanita shares.
The learning Juanita shares with her students continues after class as well. She has started a Taekwondo club, open to everyone in the community. The experience she brings as a brown belt allows her to teach the self-defense sport as well as foster a health-conscious and disciplined environment. She also participates in beading nights, feasts, and festivals to learn more of the community and its culture, as well as showing the students how invested she is in the Bearskin community. At home, she practices with her North Bay choir, Near North Voices, every Wednesday evening via Skype. The choir will actually be performing Dan Forrest’s Requiem for the Living at Carnegie Hall in New York! (March 19th if you’re in New York and want to check it out.)
At the end of the day, she spends her downtime with her dog Niibin, thinking of ways to promote greater Indigenous culture and learning in her classes and beyond. Juanita explains that she is a First Nation woman who wants to “model and share with my students the importance of education and how important it is to reclaim our Indigenous ways of learning.” The way she sees it, the more Indigenous voices there are in education, the more influence they will have on policy, curriculum, and pedagogy for change. Juanita is also looking into PhD programs that offer the learning and support she needs to develop an interactive education tool using Indigenous technological platforms.
“The more I teach, the more I’m convinced to see my dreams through,” Juanita concludes.