By Anne Russell, UFV
Chilliwack’s Natasha Rainkie has won the 2022 Lieutenant Governor’s medal at the University of the Fraser Valley, an award that recognizes student involvement in promoting diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation.
Rainkie, who received her Bachelor of Education degree at UFV’s June 15 Convocation ceremony, said her grandmother’s story inspired her to become a teacher and drives her to do the things she does.
She grew up not knowing how her grandmother suffered while attending the Lower Post residential school in northern B.C.
“She always just said she went away to boarding school,” Rainkie recalled in a UFV news release. “It wasn’t until after she died that I was going through her things and found court documents that detailed the harm that was done to her.
“And the people who harmed her never faced justice or consequences.”
Rainkie was determined to provide new generations of children with the education that her grandmother needed but didn’t receive, and when she went to Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Secondary for her teaching practicum, she had her first chance.
She taught about topics like the Indian Act, Indigenous resistance comprised of the Red River Rebellion and the Northwest resistance, and the continuing impacts of imperialism and colonization on Indigenous peoples in Canada. Her teaching emphasized historical and contemporary injustices, challenging the narrative and identity of Canada as an inclusive multicultural society.
Rainkie’s own extended family has lived with the intergenerational legacy.
“Our family has experienced suicides, addiction, and abuse,” she said. “There was a lot of disassociation and other coping mechanisms. My mother left home at 13 and ran away, hitchhiking down the Highway of Tears.”
It was important for Rainkie to incorporate social justice in every unit that she taught by giving a voice to those who have been oppressed, while teaching her students the importance of celebrating diversity in all of its forms.
UFV faculty mentor Chuck Charles described her teaching as powerful, proud, and passionate.
Teacher Education program head Vandy Britton said that all of the program faculty have high praise for Rainkie.
“She considers the experience of her family as a pillar of personal strength towards promoting Indigenous knowledge and teachings, empowering students who may be in the process of exploring their own cultural identity, or those students who face socioeconomic, emotional challenges,” Britton noted. “As a future teacher, Natasha embodies the values of social justice, critical mindedness, and pedagogical sensitivity. She understands that it takes significant effort and patience to achieve equity for everyone in our diverse society, and that attitudes and beliefs take time to change — but that everyone has a role to play within that process.”
Rainkie’s community involvement includes working with Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services, bringing awareness to MMIW2S (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit) through various initiatives including the Moose Hide Campaign. She has handed 2,000+ Moose Hide pins to people in her community.
“She has shown great potential as the agent of change that we need in today’s schools,” Britton said. “We consider her to be an exemplary role model.”
Rainkie’s ultimate goal is to work in Indigenous Education within the Ministry of Advanced Education. She has also been accepted into her second graduate degree program, a Master of Indigenous Education at UBC.
Rainkie is a member of the Kluane First Nation, which is from Burwash Landing, a small community in the Yukon.
She was not raised on their traditional territory, but she has reclaimed her culture as a part of her healing process. She has learned traditional beading methods from her mother, participates in an Indigenous women’s drumming circle, learns from local Elders, including sweat lodge ceremony traditions, and is in the early process of learning her traditional language, Southern Tutchone.”