For Jennifer Brant, the dream of completing a PhD was simply not a reality.
“As a masters student my supervisor and committee members talked about potential directions for my doctoral work well before I had even thought it was a possibility,” explains Brant.
“To my surprise, it seemed that my ability to succeed in a doctoral program was no question for them. I am truly honoured that they planted those initial seeds and fostered the belief in my ability to pursue higher education.”
On Oct. 12, she graduated from the PhD in Educational Studies program, marking the third degree she has completed at Brock.
Brant first came to Brock as an undergraduate student studying Sociology with a concentration in Criminology.
At a time when many first-year students are establishing new friendships and exploring campus life, Brant was busy preparing to become a young mother.
With her eldest son born just weeks before her final exams in her first year, she found herself juggling her studies and her responsibilities as a new mom.
As she became more involved with Aboriginal Student Services and connected with other student moms, Brant found her place in the Brock community. Brant belongs to the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk Nation) with family ties to Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
Two years after completing her BA, she returned to Brock to pursue a Master of Education (MEd) degree. Her second son was born just before she began her graduate studies.
“I came back to do my masters two years after completing my undergrad studies because I had a passion for learning, for social justice and equity issues in education, and really wanted to do something valuable that would contribute to Indigenous education.”
Brant’s MEd research on the barriers Indigenous women face in accessing education was instrumental in the development of the Gidayaamin Aboriginal Women’s Certificate Program). This full-time program was designed for Indigenous students who wish to pursue university studies and provides support in overcoming a variety of academic, cultural and linguistic barriers.
Brant’s personal experiences resonated with the research participants who provided valuable insights into the immediate sociocultural needs and educational desires of local Indigenous women. Their vision helped to shape the Gidayaamin program and the development of holistic curriculum as a culturally relevant response to the expressed goals of Indigenous women.
“I come from a family where the effects of intergenerational trauma are felt and I have personally faced and overcome numerous hardships,” says Brant.
“As a second-year undergrad student I had spent a month living in a women’s shelter. I grew up in and out of women’s shelters as a child. It wasn’t until several years later that I made sense of how that had become normalized in my life.”
Brant believes education has empowered her to create a healthier life for herself and her children.
“I came to know and recognize the strength and resilience that can take place within an academic program that is founded on cultural identity and honours the need for holistic wellbeing and this is what inspired my work on Indigenous Maternal Pedagogies, Cultural Identity Theory, and Homeplace.” Indigenous Maternal Pedagogy is informed by a strength-based approach that includes Indigenous literatures and knowledges.
“I connect Maternal Pedagogies with Indigenous epistemologies that embrace the ‘whole student’ within educational contexts. Thus, Indigenous Maternal Pedagogy extends Maternal Pedagogies by drawing from an Indigenous women-centred worldview to establish a teaching and learning environment that can speak to the hearts and minds of students.”
Brant’s dissertation entitled “Journeying toward a Praxis of Indigenous Maternal Pedagogy: Lessons from our Sweetgrass Baskets” documents the value of her unique pedagogical approach for creating an ethical space for cross-cultural and anti-racist dialogue and promoting cultural identity and academic success.
Brant aligns her work on Indigenous Maternal Pedagogy with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (2015) to create space for all learners, educators, and scholars to participate in reconciliation.
Brant’s research was supported by a Doctoral award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Brant also received the Jack Miller Award for Research Excellence in 2017 and the George L. Geis Dissertation Award in 2018.
Creating space for Indigenous pedagogies and methodologies was one of the more challenging aspects of Brant’s academic journey. Brant says the support she received from her supervisor Dr. Michelle McGinn, committee members and colleagues was invaluable in pushing these margins.
“One of the successes that stood out for me was creating a space for my doctoral defense to incorporate elements integral to Indigenizing academic processes. My defense began in ceremony, followed by an honour song from members of the Strong Women Water Singers, the Elder (Grandmother Shirley) was not only present for a traditional opening but took on a role on par with the other examining members of my committee.”
Brant recently joined the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education as Assistant Professor of Indigenous Education and Literatures.
While she has started a new chapter, Brock has been an important part of Brant’s journey.
“Not only are all of my degrees from Brock, but in many ways Brock became a second home and a place of discovery for me. I don’t think that this would have been possible without the home of the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education and the valuable friendships that were established throughout my educational journey.”
About Jennifer Brant
Jennifer Brant belongs to the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk Nation) with family ties to Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Jennifer completed her PhD in Education at Brock University, recently taught in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, and is currently an Assistant Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Jennifer’s dissertation entitled “Journeying toward a Praxis of Indigenous Maternal Pedagogy: Lessons from our Sweetgrass Baskets” provides insight into the value of a unique pedagogical approach as it relates to cultural identity development and academic success. Jennifer is the 2018 recipient of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education “George L. Geis Dissertation Award.” Her dissertation was also supported by a SSHRC doctoral award and Jennifer received the Jack M. Miller Excellence in Research Award in 2017.
Her work positions Indigenous literatures as educational tools to inspire empathy, compassion, healing, and wellness. Jennifer is the co-editor of “Forever Loved: Exposing the Hidden Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada” and writes to call for an immediate and effective response to racialized and sexualized violence. Through her community work, teaching, research, and writing, Jennifer is dedicated to encouraging teacher candidates to engage in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.