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Education as a Vehicle for Empowerment and Sovereignty

Posted on Jun 17, 2021

Photo: Janine Nanimahoo by Steinhauer Photography

A member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, Janine Nanimahoo was born and raised in Wabasca. An alumni of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP), Janine was impressed by the Northern Lakes College commitment to accommodating parents. As a woman raised with her culture’s traditional dedication to family, Janine appreciated NLC’s parent-positive atmosphere.

“We had a newborn in our class,” Janine reminisces, “and everybody was fine with that. If I was a new mother and I had hundreds of students in the class with me, no way would I be able to bring my baby,” says Janine, comparing the NLC experience to that at larger universities. It was these nuances that created a welcoming environment.

The main reason Janine chose NLC was its proximity to home; a key, Janine believes, in empowering many Indigenous and rural students. “Being able to study close to home gives students that sense of family and security. We need to be able to travel home from school that same day to care for those who depend on us. Many of our people don't want to leave the reserve, but education is part of moving a person forward. It helps you further yourself, and then you bring that education back to your people.”

And bring her skills home, Janine did. Upon graduating in 2008, Janine was hired by the Bigstone Education Authority to teach grade five at the local school. After five years in the classroom, Janine and her family moved to Edmonton. In 2016, she graduated with a Master in Education specializing in Indigenous Peoples Education from the University of Alberta. Despite this achievement, Janine knew her educational journey wasn’t over.

“My heart is in protecting our treaties,” Janine explains. “For so long, our people have been told what to do under the Canadian government, but now more and more of us are getting educated. Now it’s like, ‘No, we chose how we live, how our ancestors lived. We have our own laws and, as Cree people, we have our own lives.’ That’s where I want to go. I want to protect our sovereignty.”

With this spirit of determination, Janine applied for both a doctoral program and law school. She was accepted into both, and ultimately chose the U of A Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge program, with the goal of building a career within the legal system and, eventually, entering into politics.

A model of inspiration, Janine urges others to continue working towards their full potential. She explains, “Education helps you grow as a person. It instills pride. It instills that ‘Hey, I can do this,’ belief, and NLC supports that attitude. And we can do this! Our people should be running, operating, and doing everything within our Nation. NLC supports us in that effort – or at least it gives people a little push towards a fuller life.”

Janine currently lives in west Edmonton, 15 minutes away from where she teaches elementary school in Enoch Cree Nation. She begins her legal studies in September 2021.