When passion meets action

August 18, 2016

Researcher looks at interactions between Indigenous parents and their children's teachers


How do you take a passion for equality and turn it into real, meaningful change? According to one of MacEwan University’s newest faculty members, you roll up your sleeves and get involved.

It's a busy time for Emily Milne. In July, she made the move to Edmonton from Ontario to join the MacEwan University Department of Sociology as an assistant professor, and she’s gearing up to teach her first classes here in September. She also recently published some of the research she conducted at the University of Waterloo in the Canadian Review of Sociology.

The research looks at family-school relationships, specifically how the history of residential schools affects the way Indigenous parents interact with their children's teachers. Emily found that due to the history of abuse in residential schools, many Indigenous parents find it intimidating to approach educators, which can often leave children without the support and resources they need to succeed.

“I learned a lot about (family-school) dynamics,” she says. “In particular I learned that developing strong relationships and strong bonds with schools can be challenging for many families, but that residential schooling and the history of discrimination in schooling adds a layer of complexity to that relationship for Indigenous families.”

The lower the education level of the parents, the further the issue is compounded. Emily explains that “the parents who were involved in schooling for longer periods of time were more comfortable, so they were advocating on behalf of their children, they were asking for resources. They weren’t intimidated to have those conversations, whereas the parents who didn’t have that educational experience were very intimidated and therefore did not do so.”

“ ... developing strong relationships and strong bonds with schools can be challenging for many families...” Emily Milne 

Though her research may have exposed gaps in Indigenous family-school dynamics, Emily knows that the real work is just beginning. She is keenly aware that real change requires more than just research or good intentions. And even though policies have been put in place to create educational environments that are inclusive to Indigenous families, Emily believes there is still work to be done.

“It’s important to have schooling policies, but also to make sure that they’re actually being implemented in the way intended, because I found in Ontario it wasn’t always the case,” she explains. “For example in Ontario and here in Alberta there are policies for integrating Indigenous content into public schooling. It’s supposed to be embedded into the curriculum at the various grade levels, but then when you go and talk to the teachers like I have, they know it’s there, they know there’s professional development available to help them embed this content into their classroom, but often they’re too intimidated to do it or they don’t want to use the wrong phrase. They don’t know how to do it, so often they don’t.”

Emily is committed to making sure that’s not the case in Alberta. “It’s a really important component, not just to have the policy with the poster on the wall, but to look at how it’s shaping schooling experiences at all levels of schooling. I really want to get involved in that here in Alberta at the elementary and secondary level, but then also at the post-secondary level,” she says. “I’d really like to get involved with schooling here to explore how policies associated with Indigenous education are being implemented and what are the successful strategies, what are the challenges.”

Emily’s belief in taking action is a value that she hopes to pass on to her sociology students. “I’d love to have students involved in the research I’m doing and together we can try to influence policies and programs and practices in schooling, which is something I’m very passionate about,” she says. “But definitely my role here would be to support students and encourage students and mentor students. There are lots of issues out there and I think it’s important that if they’re passionate about something, let’s learn about it. Let’s figure it out, because there are lots of things that can be done.”

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