By Steve Hubrecht 

[email protected] 

The Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) has a new Director of Indigenous Learning, and her name is Jenna Jasek.

The Columbia Valley resident is well known to many for her work in education, including serving for several years as Rocky Mountain School District No. 6’s vice-principal of Indigenous Learning and Equity, and supporting CBEEN as an Indigenous advisor for the past four years. She is now delighted to join the local nonprofit full time.

“I’m really excited to put my full effort into Indigenous learning, outdoor learning and learning from the land with CBEEN,” Jasek told the Pioneer.

Jasek is a member of the Shuswap Band (her mom Barb Cote has been Shuswap Band Chief for a decade), but also has close ties with the Akisqnuk First Nation (where her great, great grandfather was the last hereditary chief).

In a video on the CBEEN website, Jasek explained that she understood comparatively little about her Indigenous cultural heritage as a child. Jasek’s grandmother, who spoke Ktunaxa, went to St. Eugene’s mission school near Cranbrook and feared sharing the culture would be detrimental to their survival in society.

“Growing up, we didn’t really know who we were. It wasn’t until I went away to university — I was in the Indigenous education program at University of British Columbia (UBC) — where I started to learn about who I was, and what my ancestors have dealt with, and what people are dealing with today,” said Jasek.

Part of the reason Jasek opted to become a teacher (she holds a Master’s degree in special education), was to be a role model and help local Indigenous children realize that they have as much potential as anyone else. She wants to show them “that we can do things, we can go places, and we can be great people. There are so many amazing Indigenous people.”

Jasek likened the process to a journey.

“As I learn about my culture, it makes me realize more how we need to learn with our local land. Our local land is our greatest teacher and has so many hidden teachings that we walk past every day without acknowledging.”

CBEEN executive director Duncan Whittick said the organization is very excited to have Jasek on the team, mentioning that in her previous role as Indigenous advisor, Jasek helped launch the nonprofit Outdoor Learning School and Store and also co-created the 4 Seasons of Indigenous Learning course.

This fall will mark the start of the third year of the 4 Seasons course, which is open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants alike, and which seeks to deepen participants’ understanding of Indigenous perspectives, Indigenous knowledge and connections with local land.

“We have some really great presenters lined up,” said Jasek, including Robin Wall Kimmerer, Richard Van Camp, Sasha Eugene and more. “I really encourage people to take the course. It is important for all of us – Indigenous and non-Indigenous to learn about reconciliation.”

The 4 Seasons of Indigenous Learning draws participants from across the continent and all around the world. So far more than 20,000 people have participated, including 7,500 during the past academic year. Of those, they estimate that more than 500 are from the Columbia Valley.

Jasek is jumping into her new role with both feet, and by the time this issue of the Pioneer hits newsstands (on May 9), she will be in the midst of helping to host a National Outdoor Learning conference in Banff, with 450 educators from across the country.

To learn more about the 4 Seasons course visit outdoorlearningstore.com/4-seasons/.