Inclusion, Diversity and Human Rights Committee launches online resource hub

Sask Bulletin
October 13, 2021

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation has a new resource section available online as of October 1. The Inclusion, Diversity and Human Rights Committee (formerly Social Justice, Inclusion and Equity) launched new web pages on the STF website in response to an identified need by Saskatchewan teachers to implement and actualize the social justice, inclusion and equity suite of policies.

“The area of social justice is so big that it can be difficult to know where to start. Many teachers might not know where to look to find credible information on queer identity or education through Indigenous worldviews. Our hope is to begin this work, and to ensure that the material coming from the Federation is easily accessible and supportive for teachers in their contexts,” said STF Professional Learning Associate Director Linda Aspen-Baxter, and co-chair of the Committee. “If the material is coming from the Federation, Saskatchewan teachers know that it’s been reviewed and is applicable to their needs.”

One of the key areas the IDHR Committee is focusing on initially is education through Indigenous worldviews, which cultivates a holistic understanding of knowledge, the land, communities and all relations while emphasizing that Indigenous ways of knowing are foundational to teaching and learning. The other area of initial focus is on queer identity, which refers to the diversity of the 2SLGBTQ+ community (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus additional individuals who identify in this group), recognizing that gender, gender expression and sexual diversity are key to individuals’ identities.

The Committee also plans to focus on supports for teachers providing intensive supports for students, culture and language identity, and equitable leadership, all of which stem from STF policies initiated by members. The Committee will be working to provide resources, and learning and networking opportunities in these policy areas, as well as the overarching policies of social justice, inclusion and equity, and child and youth well-being.

“The difference between year one and where we’ll be in five years is that we hope this website will be a conduit where teachers can go to find information that we have vetted or created instead beginning with the myriad of resources on Google.

“We’re curating content now. Within five years we’ll be creating it. We have plans to invite teachers to become involved in creating the material–content that is by Saskatchewan teachers and for Saskatchewan teachers. Our goal over the next five years is to elevate voices that have been traditionally less heard, and to elevate the work of teachers towards the goal of inclusion and an overall stance of social justice.”

The groundwork for the IDHR Committee was laid over a decade ago. In 2010, a Special Meeting of Council launched a policy renewal process in the area of social justice and equity. Work continued in 2011 with a working committee of teachers who drafted a set of principles to guide an STF policy on social justice and equity. Their work continued until October 2014, at which time a renewed set of policies was presented to Councillor Conference 2014 for feedback and then at Annual Meeting of Council 2015, where the renewed policies 1.8 to 1.13 were approved.

Following the approval of these policies, a new social justice, inclusion and equity working committee of teachers was convened in the spring of 2018 to make recommendations for the implementation and actualization of the renewed policies 1.8 to 1.13. The team identified work emerging from the recommendations, including the creation of the Indigenous Resources Review Committee, a two-year working committee of teachers tasked with sharing resources that they were using to reflect the residential school legacy, history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, treaties, and contemporary and positive representations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

On October 20, 2020, the social justice, inclusion and equity committee, comprised of senior administrative staff, STF Professional Learning staff and research staff, was approved to continue the work recommended by the 2018 working committee. The SJIE Committee, now the IDHR Committee, has ranged from six to 10 members and has been meeting regularly over the past year to plan the new IDHR web pages and the work that will continue to be developed.

“Beyond the policies that came into being in 2015, Saskatchewan teachers wouldn’t have seen anything actualized. This is the ‘now what’ stage that people have been waiting for. Teachers need to see themselves in the work that we do. Education sometimes moves slowly but there was a desire from the teachers on the working committee to move more nimbly,” explained STF Senior Administrative Staff Elizabeth Hutton, who is co-chairing the IDHR Committee with Aspen-Baxter.

“There have been many invested voices involved in getting us to this point,” said Hutton. “We have incredible people working at the Federation who continue to be involved in doing the work. We have a Committee of very dedicated folks, as well as the support of the larger organization. We wouldn’t have these inclusion, diversity and human rights web pages if there wasn’t real support from senior management and work units such as Communications, and Design and Production.”

The work of the Inclusion, Diversity and Human Rights Committee comes at a time when reconciliation, the Calls to Action and social justice in general have featured prominently in world events as well as closer to home.

According to Statistics Canada, more than one million Canadians over the age of 15 identified as 2SLGTBQ+ in 2018. In 2019, however, Canadian police reported the highest number of hate crimes targeting 2SLGTBQ+ people in a decade.

For the first time, Canada took the number one spot in the 2021 Best Countries report, a ranking and analysis project by the U.S. News & World Report, BAV Group and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Canada ranked number one in quality of life and social purpose, and was also perceived as caring about human rights and committed to social justice. Additionally, 80 percent of global citizens feel aligned with social justice, while 76 percent also agreed that a country is stronger when it is more racially and ethnically diverse. Canada and the Nordic countries were viewed as the most committed to social justice.

“There is no end to this project, where many other projects have an end date. This is continuous and continuing so it has enormous scope and will hopefully outlive Elizabeth and I [Aspen-Baxter].

“The Committee is already working on the next round of material. Phase one, which you can see on the website, is the initial foundational step only,” said Aspen-Baxter. “The efforts will continue to be a work in progress that we hope will celebrate and elevate teachers over time.”

“It feels really, really good to be a part of the change. We are coming from a stance of not being experts, but we are learning; we are on our journey. This matters to us greatly. We are offering our learning and expanded awareness, transparently and vulnerably. We’re not always sure how it will go over. Our hearts are in it, but we know we will make mistakes as we continue to learn,” offered Hutton. “So far we are experiencing an incredibly open reception to the possibilities. In being vulnerable, people are responding. It’s providing openings not only for teachers, but also for individuals and work units to consider how they might begin to engage in this kind of thinking.”

The inclusion, diversity and human rights web pages will be updated as new resources, and learning and networking opportunities are developed.

Eighty-five items, including links to related Emma Stewart Resource Centre bibliographies, McDowell Foundation research projects, STF Professional Learning workshops and Ministry of Education modules, can be found on the website, as well as newly created STF resources, which includes welcoming space posters that are available for download or can be ordered. Following the initial launch of the web pages, new items will be identified as NEW for the first six weeks they are posted. Members are encouraged to check back often.

“We are providing a safe space for people to ask us questions about how they can do more and learn more,” said Hutton. “We are leaning into the discomfort. It’s not easy work, but you have to be open and humble and willing to learn.”