Alumni Horizon Award recipient honoured for her research into Indigenous education and history

Dr. Apooyak’ii / Tiffany Prete is using her expertise to shed light on the historical impacts of colonial education systems in Canada

Lauren Bannon - 31 October 2022

While pursuing her graduate studies in Educational Policy Studies with an Indigenous Peoples Education specialization at the University of Alberta, Dr. Apooyak’ii / Tiffany Prete discovered a profound sense of belonging.

“It was the first time I felt welcomed as an Indigenous person into a formal educational setting, and it was also the first time I was encouraged to be who I am, Niitsitapi (a Real person),” she says. “It was the first time I had Indigenous professors, who are all strong, female academics. It was inspiring to be mentored and taught by these individuals.”

This life-changing experience opened a path that would lead Prete to help implement important changes to Alberta’s educational policies.

In her dissertation, Indigenizing Educational Policy; Our Shared Responsibility, Prete examined how effective Alberta Education’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit policy framework is at creating positive perceptions and understanding of the histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. She argues that incorporating Indigenous knowledges into the system is necessary and that it not only has positive implications for Indigenous students but for non-Indigenous students’ understanding as well.

“I compared two educational approaches that Alberta Education has implemented for students to learn about Indigenous Peoples in Canada, both Aboriginal Studies course work at the secondary level and the integration of Indigenous knowledges in the K-12 curriculum,” she says. “One of the major findings of my research is that students who experienced these courses had a more positive perception of Indigenous Peoples.”

Knowing she had uncovered a significant concept, she brought her dissertation to life by educating government officials, politicians, educational leaders and teachers on how they can use her findings to bring about change in the province’s classrooms. The conclusions of her research were recommendations for Alberta Education on how to improve its policy framework in the field of Indigenous education.

In addition to making impacts on the provincial education system, she is also using her expertise as a researcher to shed light on the historical impacts of colonial education systems in Canada, specifically for her own people, the Blood Tribe.

Working alongside guidelines laid out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Actions, specifically number 78 — which calls for communities to research and produce histories of their residential school experiences — she has conducted archival and oral history research in order to reveal and record significant aspects of the Blood Tribe’s Indian residential school history. She shared her documentation with Blood Tribe Elders and helped expand her tribe’s understanding of the history of the colonial education system and its impact on their people.

She also uses photographs as a tool to uncover parts of this history. As an important act of redress and reconciliation in this project, residential school survivors have been invited to share stories about the photographs, allowing her people to tell their own history in their own words.

“My sole purpose in becoming Dr. Prete is so that I can serve my Blood People and engage in research that is meaningful to us and address the pressing needs that we currently face,” she says.

“The intent of my work is to help Indigenous Peoples heal from the traumas they have encountered from colonization and to teach all Canadians the truth of our colonial history. Learning this history helps to position why Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing are important and why it is vital for Indigenous Peoples to reclaim their traditional ways of life.”

Receiving recognition

This November, the distinguished alumni and now adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education as well as an assistant professor at the University of Lethbridge, is being recognized for her far-reaching impacts as a true change-maker. Prete has been named a recipient of a 2022 Alumni Horizon Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the community of U of A graduates.

“I was very honoured and humbled to learn I was a recipient of the award,” she says. “When I learned I won, I was utterly shocked and surprised — I had no idea that I had been nominated!”

When asked what this award means to her, she reflects on her own educational journey as an Indigenous woman.

“Growing up Indigenous in Canada, I was always made to feel insignificant and worthless. I was repeatedly told that I would never amount to anything. While I never wanted to believe these statements were true, they unfortunately affected me for a time in my life. Through my post-secondary education, I was able to overcome these false statements and become comfortable with and empowered by who I am, a Niitsitapiaakii, a Blackfoot woman and scholar.”

“As insignificant as I have once felt in my life, this award to me helps reinforce that small actions, as unimportant as we might think they are, have the potential to make a big impact,” she says.