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Welcome to White Fox Learning

Diane Ellis

Welcome to my website White Fox Learning. In this first blog post, I want to introduce myself and tell you why I started this business.

My name is Diane Ellis and I am a white woman. Truth, right upfront. And yes, I am selling Indigenous language materials. To get to the 'why', I need to tell you more about me. I have been involved in First Nations education, culture and language, through work and family for almost 40 years.

After taking Native Studies at Trent University, I decided to become a teacher, with the intention of teaching on a reserve in northern Ontario. It was 1980 and teaching jobs were pretty scarce. On the first day of Teacher's College at U of T, they called us all in to the auditorium and told us that most of us wouldn't be able to find a job when we graduated! But I wasn't worried, because I knew I was going north.

My first teaching job was in an Ojibwe community, with a one-room school, on an island in Lake of the Woods, Ontario. My apartment was on one side of the building and the classroom was on the other side - but more about that in a future post about differentiation before it was a thing.

I spent 7 years teaching in First Nations communities in northern Ontario, then 15 years teaching ESL in southern Ontario. But the north kept calling me back, so I returned to work at a First Nations organization that served schools in the western part of northwestern Ontario. More recently, I spent a year as a Learning Coach in a small Inuit community on Baffin Island, Nunavut.

One of the many things that I learned throughout the years is that there is a really dire need for teaching materials in Indigenous languages. I heard that cry over and over again from the local teachers. For English materials, teachers can just whip open one of the many school catalogues and pick what they want. Publishers cater to them, sending lots of samples and discounts for schools to buy their 'newest and greatest' materials.

Indigenous language teachers spend hours and hours creating their teaching materials, often writing out worksheets by hand in syllabics or by taping over English words and writing in their language. Cutting out syllabic bulletin board letters is a never ending job. Manipulatives in syllabics were non-existent.

Publishers don't and will never publish in Indigenous languages - for a few reasons. The first and foremost reason is that there is no standardized writing system for any of the Indigenous languages in Canada. The languages that I have dealt with, learned about and experienced are Oji-Cree, Ojibwe, Cree and Inuktitut. Within each of those languages, there are many dialects, often varying greatly from community to community. There has always been talk of trying to standardize the language and the Inuit in Nunavut have been working at it for awhile now, but it is never a very popular option for many people.

The other reason that publishers will not publish in Indigenous languages in that there isn't a big enough market for any particular language for them to make the profit they need. It just comes down to money!

So one of my goals is to produce materials that can be easily translated and produced in any language. I am a whiz at copy typing in syllabics even though I don't speak the languages. I can help teachers design and produce professional looking materials in their language and dialect.

The other goal is to help teachers in the north gain access to materials and items that are relevant to northern Canada. Way back in my early teaching days, I remember putting up an alphabet line above the black board and it had some items and animals that my Ojibwe speaking students had never even seen before. The one I remember clearly is R for raccoon! There are no raccoons in northwestern Ontario.

Teaching about seasons in the north was always frustrating. All the materials that you could find showed spring as daffodils, tulips, umbrellas and running around in summer clothes! Spring in northwestern Ontario means that the snow is maybe 'starting' to melt a bit, ice fishing derbies happen, the days are longer (and a bit warmer), some of the birds start to come back (not robins) and you can switch out your heavy parka for a lighter winter jacket!