NCNW Spotlight Interview: Georgie Groat, DSBN Indigenous Education

Georgie Groat, Student Achievement & Lead, DSBN Indigenous Education
  • What is your and your family’s background?

Georgie: I grew up in St. Catharines, the third of four children who come from a settler and Haudenosaunee background. I have two older sisters, a younger brother, my mom is from British-Welsh ancestry, and my dad is Tuscarora/Mohawk. So, I carry that ancestry.

  • How did you learn about your Indigenous background/history?

Georgie: I’ve always known. As a child I spent time with my family in Lewiston, NY on the Tuscarora reserve. We visited with my dad’s aunts and uncles, my grandparents, and cousins. I have very nice memories of that because conversations were in the kitchen, there was always food that brought us together, there was always a fire, and it was just very easy. Then when my dad’s aunts and uncles passed away, we didn’t go as much so there was a bit of a disconnect until later when I started going for language classes and trying to bring those connections back again.

  • What are some ways in which you like to celebrate your Indigenous heritage?

Georgie: When I think about celebrating the heritage – I think I’m at a stage where I’m really learning as much as I can, and I’m at the beginning of that learning so, I think instead of celebrating, I try to speak about it and show pride. I’ve tried to start learning the Tuscarora language and I try to bring that into my work. I guess that’s a way I’m proud of my heritage, using the language, trying to be a part of things happening in the community, just being present and with my actions.

  • Why was and is volunteering and working with Indigenous community important to you?

Georgie: I started working in the community when I was in my late teens, early 20s at the Friendship Centre and I really enjoyed the work. I was a camp counsellor and then I was a youth worker at the Niagara Regional Native Centre, and it’s a different experience in the community. We took language classes there. It was really nice to feel part of the community and have the supports from different colleagues. As I got older, I volunteered on the Board of Directors there. My work with the school board is important because I want to support teachers in their efforts to address the importance of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination and provide opportunities for them to learn from Indigenous community members. One of the things I find important is supporting and strengthening board-wide awareness of Indigenous histories and perspectives, our cultures and contributions and current realities, through an asset-based lens. I think a lot of learning has been through some of that historic deficit-lens, which is important, but there’s really an asset-lens that we can start teaching through. In this work, I am looking for an opportunity to re-conceptualize the future of education by incorporating Indigenous Worldviews. I feel a responsibility to contribute and add to the work of Indigenous educators that came before me, the community members who are doing the work, and scholars who are researching and studying. So, I really want to be a part of that movement forward.

  • What is the most important message you would like to get across with your work and involvement with the Indigenous (Metis, Inuit, and First Nations) community?

Georgie:  In the work that I do at the board, I think that building trusting relationships based on friendship, honesty and mutual respect is key. That’s what I want people to know – that relationship building, and reciprocity is important in the work we all do.

  • What is an important lesson others can learn about the Indigenous culture and people?

Georgie: One of the things I’m trying to focus on right now with educators is that there’s so many positive contemporary contributions that have added significantly to the body of knowledge that we hold today, there have been innovators or inventors of so much that we don’t recognize. I think that is a big piece and whether it has to do with the environment or science or medicine, there are a lot of pieces where First Nations and Indigenous communities have this huge historic knowledge base that we should be looking at and bringing that Indigenous worldview into schools alongside Western worldviews. I think there is a place for both.

  • In your opinion, how can someone become the best ally possible to the Indigenous community?

Georgie:  To become an ally, you have to understand the history you come with, the bias that you hold, be ready to have uncomfortable conversations about the place and space that you occupy in this community and be okay with that. I think having those uncomfortable conversations is the way to build that trust and those relationships. Being an ally requires humility, self-reflection and awareness and I feel positive about the work people are doing in the board, working toward ally-ship

  • What is the function with Indigenous Education at the District School Board of Niagara?

Georgie: Indigenous Education at DSBN is a team. We have a System Principal or the Student Achievement Leader, Elementary Consultant, Secondary Consultant, Re-engagement and Grad Coach and our Indigenous Supports Advisor, we also have an opening for a Social Worker – Indigenous focused K-12 . So, really it is a team approach, and we work to support students and families. We’re also supporting all students, educators, and admin in understanding that First Nations, Metis, and Inuit perspectives need to really be reflected throughout the curriculum and courses of all students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to have all of them have an appreciation and understanding of the history, culture, perspectives, contributions and current realities of First Nations, Metis and Inuit and communities. Supporting educators in building capacity where they can teach about culture – not to teach culture but teach about culture – and feel comfortable in that and supporting administration so there’s a comfort level in their work is important also. To me, it goes back to building relationships and having that authentic voice in schools and classrooms, and the reciprocity. How are we showing up in community ourselves? It’s about building representation in Indigenous staff and teachers. These are all things I think are important. It is a process, and it takes time; these are the things we’re working towards and talking about and are some of the things that are important to us in Indigenous Education at the Board.

  • What do you enjoy most about your role?

Georgie:  I feel grateful and fortunate enough to have had the experiences in my teaching career, in my personal life, and in my education to be able to sit in this position as a System Principal, as the Student Achievement Leader for Indigenous Education. It’s a brand-new role and I get to work with administrators, teachers, my team, and the community to shape what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, and I think that is a really great place to be on the edge of this great work that’s going to be done. I’m excited about what we can do, the changes we can make, how to support Indigenous Student Success, and how to make families and community feel welcome and more trusting of the system. But really, I think it’s about the possibilities of change that I’m looking forward to.

  • Is there a gap that your role addresses, and if so, what may that be?

Georgie: This is the first year that this role has existed and so, there has never been a System Administrator or System Principal that held only Indigenous Education K to 12 in their portfolio. I think this role breaks down some of those barriers to have an Indigenous person in an administrator role that supports decision making and bridges some of those gaps.

  • What are some of the biggest achievements of this role?

Georgie: Again, I’m really new to the role. I think that for DSBN to have an Indigenous Ed. Team with Indigenous educators and community members is really important and that we’re showing representation in the staff. My hope is that not only would it continue, but that it will grow and there will be more Indigenous educators and staff within the system.

  • What lasting message would you like to share with the Indigenous youth of today?

Georgie: For Indigenous youth not to be afraid, use your voice and speak up when you see that there’s something in need of change. Do it in a way that is honest and respectful – in a way people will listen and want to be a part of what you’re doing – and for students to be courageous and take on some of those leadership roles in schools. We have an Indigenous Student Trustee who is working to create an Indigenous Student Leadership Circle, to bring student voice to the forefront of the work she is doing. We talk in our Indigenous Education Advisory Council that we want to hear student voice – what do they need? What are they missing? What do they want to have reflected in their school culture to really feel good about themselves? If you see something that maybe isn’t right or something that you can contribute to, speak out and have your voice heard. Or future Indigenous leaders are going to come from the students that are in schools right now. When you can see the result of your words in a positive way, it is empowering, and I would love to see Indigenous students in schools, take that step to use their positive voice to make change.