Joel Gamache

Hands-on and Heart-led Learning: Joel Gamache’s Work as an Educational Consultant

He learned by doing and now what he does is help Indigenous people learn. Joel Gamache lives in Okotoks, Alberta just outside of Calgary and grew up in Laurier, Manitoba. He works as an educational consultant for a national nonprofit called Actua, encouraging Indigenous youth in STEM. He got his start in education as a teacher in 2015 and has advocated for Métis students and Indigenous students more broadly. These days, he works in post-secondary institutions.   

Gamache ended up where he is because he doesn’t shy away from experiences and he takes on the opportunities he’s invited to. “I really believe that we're meant for certain purposes, and different opportunities will arise to either build us for something that's coming or to challenge us and so I try to jump into them headfirst,” he reflects. 

As a student, Gamache struggled with reading and writing and so in his educational advocacy, he tries to bring attention to the many other ways students learn and to reinforce that they have value, too. He didn’t like school and he gritted his teeth to get through to graduation. Gamache felt very alone and the way he was being taught wasn’t working. Asking his friends, some of them could relate and they found they learned better in other ways, too. That experience motivated him to teach. These are the lived experiences he brought to his work as an administration and as a learning support coordinator.  

One of the ways Gamache learned better was with his hands and that’s why the trades appealed to him. He worked in the trades for some time, welding, machining and construction. “That was how I got to express myself. I found joy in building things from scratch, having that knowledge that other people didn't have. Then, I wanted to teach that. I wanted to help other people be able to express themselves in the same way that I struggled,” he recalls. After being demoralized by being seen as less than because he learned differently, he overcame that struggle with his confidence. 

His advice for students considering leaving their home communities to learn or travel is, “I would say do it. It helped me learn who I was and who I wanted to be.” Growing up in a small community, he had to move more than four hours away from university, leaving behind an agricultural community to live in a city. Moving on from lifelong friendships and farm life to urban Winnipeg, he had struggles that gave him insights into his own identity, goals and purpose. He gained a new perspective along the way. 

From Winnipeg, he moved north to Flin Flon for more educational experience and to gain more perspective. He has learned how important travel is. “You start to rely on yourself, and you just trust that you're in the right place at the right time. Someone has a plan, and we're guided in that way. Lean into it. It's okay to be uncomfortable at times,” he urges. Being far from home and learning differently from others, Gamache has had to learn to find a community he could relate to.

While his first job was working on the family farm, he later worked as a lifeguard and then taught swimming lessons, something that inspired him to teach. Working in construction helped him pay for university. He loved teaching in a hands-on way and wanted to impact a whole school community, moving into administration, then into leadership as a principal, then onto the school board and now working on a national level. 

Gamache obtained a master’s degree while he was teaching and working as an administrator, hoping to bring those lenses to his graduate studies. “Sometimes you need to struggle in those systems to then know what needs to change about them rather than just getting out of it so you can go through it and say ‘I lived this and I want to make change here because’,” he explains. 

"Sometimes you need to struggle in those systems to then know what needs to change about them rather than just getting out of it"

His biggest obstacles along the way have been in learning how to advocate for himself and share his feelings. Gamache has had to learn how to put into words what he has a hard time with and use his voice to ask for what he needs. He’s also struggled with loneliness moving away from his family, but he’s returned home as often as he could. 

If he could give his younger self advice it would be to listen more. Growing up, Gamache felt he had to learn by experiencing things and figuring things out on his own where he could have benefited more from listening to the advice that was offered to him. He would also advise himself to pause and get a sense of the big picture instead of fixating on problems. 

The other thing Gamache has struggled with is accepting help and feeling like people have been offering to help because they didn’t think he was capable. He would want to tell his younger self to trust his gut, take a step back to decide how much help is wanted and be prepared for tough life lessons. 

To maintain his mental health, he spends time outside in nature. Even in an urban setting, he connects with the bush through a single tree. When Gamache feels socially overwhelmed, he spends time on walking paths or near water. 

When it comes to inspiration, Gamache looks to young children like his nieces and nephews and their inquisitive nature, the way they are always learning. He’s also motivated by his family, by their perspectives, work ethics and generosity. Being able to give and brighten someone’s day when he’s feeling low helps him feel better, too. 

To inspire Indigenous youth, he would like to offer words of wisdom, “Whatever you're feeling, you're not alone. There's a community out there. Even if you're coming from a small place or a big place, there are other people who are feeling similarly, and you can get through it. There are ways to help yourself and there are ways to accept help. Accepting it doesn't mean that you're less than. You can do it. Just figure out how you'd like to situate yourself within that. It’s okay when you don't know.” 

He learned by doing and now what he does is help Indigenous people learn. Struggling through educational systems not built for him, Gamache found ways to rise above and he’s sharing what he’s learned through his work. Learning with his hands and leading with his heart, he’s creating a path for Indigenous learners who might otherwise be left behind.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    May 7, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
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