Joette Lefebvre: Director of Lifelong Learning — Chippewas of the Thames First Nation

Tell us about your journey in First Nations’ lifelong learning.

This is a such a big question and where to start? My grandparents, parents, and my own experiences influenced me into lifelong learning and education.

Once I understood about their experiences with residential school, learning about our family and identity, and how important it was for them to see their grandchild, child navigate well away from home and family, nourished the beginning of what lifelong learning would mean for me.

My dad always reminded me that I always had a home where our family is from, even when I was away from home for high school. I learned more about my late grandfather’s experiences through stories told by my mother, and in that way, I wanted to do what I could to honour my late grandfather and his wishes for me.

During my high school years, much of my communication with my parents and late grandfather was through telephone.

Why is working in Indigenous education so important to you?

Again, the more I developed my understanding of lifelong learning and Indigenous education, connecting them back to family and my heroes in my family who I love and admire, is why working in Indigenous education is very important to me.

My experience of having to leave home and family at a young age for high school, which eventually continued into post-secondary and graduate school and having my own family during these years, has also deepened the importance of maintaining, revitalizing, and passing forth culture, stories, identity, and language in Indigenous education.

What was it like to attend school so far from home?

It was a lot. It was difficult, a transition, and good at the same time. It was also like someone poured water in watercolour paint and I began learning more about who I was, more about home, more about my family, culture and identity, history, and things I did not know until I was away from it all for high school.

Perhaps because by being away from home I realized I was no longer surrounded by what I unknowingly had been growing up with. I started to see my identity, familial homelands, language, and family, in new light – it took years for me to understand and get to a growth where I could openly speak to these experiences I underwent.

You said you experienced culture shock?

I experienced a little bit of culture shock, and homesickness. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that I received a lot of support from people I consider as my family who cared and looked after me while I was away from my own family and home.

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They, and the supports they gave me have a special place in my heart and is what I encourage and advocate for when it comes to supporting Indigenous students navigate school. I gave the same supports to my younger brother when it was his turn to leave home for high school and I became his legal guardian for that short time.

What do you envision for First Nation lifelong learning systems?

I envision families to be an important part of First Nation lifelong learning systems.

Increasing culture, identity, language, and knowledge with the support and involvement of families, and working in collaboration with them as well to support students in these areas and more.

What is the greatest challenge to that vision?

I think the challenge is not thinking of it as a challenge. Everyday we are working and building towards what community envisions for First Nation lifelong learning systems, and we have the strength in us to do that.

What gives you hope for the future of Indigenous lifelong learning systems?

There are graduates from Antler River Elementary School who work with in the school today. Seeing community and families in lifelong learning system, and as an important part of the lifelong system is what gives me hope.

In what way has FNWSC helped you as lifelong learning director?

I am very grateful for the Collective and the incredible people who are involved with the Collective. I am thankful for the collaborative teamwork, guidance, and the sharing of experiences that we have to support each other.

What do you want for children who go through a First Nation education system?

I want them to succeed and be strong and proud of their culture, identity, knowledge systems, and language. I want them to be able to know that there are many people around them who are rooting for them, supporting them, and caring for them.