Culture in the Classroom: Jennifer Manitowabi Shares Jingle Dress Teachings
“I've always trusted the Creator has a hand in where I'm going and what I'm doing. I do as much as I can to my natural ability,” says Jennifer Manitowabi. She grew up in Thunder Bay but now lives in the community of Frenchman's Head in Lac Seul First Nation. A teacher educated at Lakehead University, she’s taught locally and worked in administration. Through Connected North, Manitowabi provides teachings about jingle dress and works as a community lead with the program.
In jingle dress sessions, students learn teachings about the clockwise direction dancers move in, about how otters gifted us with jingles and about the 365 jingles on a traditional dress. In the safe space of the sessions, students sometimes share about the jingle dresses in their own families and about the teachings they have received.
Her youngest son, a toddler, is a frequent participant in sessions, quick to pick up a drum when the occasion calls for it. Her eldest son works in emergency services and her daughter attends Nipissing University. She raised her youngest as a single parent.
As a survivor of the 60s Scoop, Manitowabi wasn’t in her own mother’s care until she was two. The youngest among her siblings, she grew up hearing her language being spoken and learning about culture, beadwork, and sewing mukluks, mittens and beaver fur hats. She also learned to skin a rabbit and clean a moose and it brings her joy to see her kids put that knowledge into practice, snaring rabbits and bringing them home for the family.
When it comes to formal education, Manitowabi's mother urged her to continue with her education as high as she could go. In keeping with her mother’s wishes, she is pursuing her PhD and researching virtual learning, planning to interview knowledge keepers about their perspectives on the learning that could be delivered through Connected North. School didn’t always come easily to her.
In high school, Manitowabi advocated for Indigenous history education, complaining about the accuracy of what was taught in mainstream history classes. She also advocated for Indigenous language instruction in school, arguing it was unfair that they should have to attend French classes when they could be learning Ojibwe.
After graduation, she took a teaching assistant program, resisting exams while she attended every class. When she was there, she attended a class about Aboriginal law and advocacy where she learned about residential schools and the 60s Scoop. The dean of her program suggested she work in the tribal council and use her power for good and she did just that until she went into education.
In her first year of teacher assistant training with Confederation College in Thunder Bay, her placement supervisor encouraged her to keep going and become a teacher. She applied to university and got in. Offered admission in the native teacher education program, she asked to be placed in the mainstream program and she was accepted.
While she was studying to be a teacher, she had two young children to care for and had been caring for her mother as well. When her mother passed away from cancer, she asked and received a year off from her program to focus on her children and deal with her grief. “I could have tried to be the strong person and keep pulling through, deny my grief and deny I needed support. I had to admit, I did need the support. I did need the time. I needed the space and I needed to feel,” she recalls. She found her own path to cope during a difficult time, just as she’s found her own path for success, whether her own or that of her family.
Sometimes that path led her out of her community, to Sudbury and Minnesota for her daughter to play hockey. She had to find a job in a new country and apply for dual citizenship. It was an uncomfortable process to deal with the border patrol to make her daughter’s dream come true but she found a way. She encourages people to find out what the process is to achieve their dreams and to follow their hearts. “I encourage you, if there's an opportunity that's drawing you away for a little while, explore that opportunity. I mean, if it's meant to be, things will happen, right?” she smiles.
She’s always trusted the Creator has a hand in where she’s going and what she’s doing. She does as much as she can to her natural ability and that trust and hard work has taken her all over. A single mom, she’s raised her children and her own expectations for what is possible, pursuing her education and becoming an educator. Jennifer Manitowabi encourages people to step out of their comfort zone to pursue what matters to them, because that’s what she did to make her dreams come true.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.