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#ClaimYourPlace Deb


As Women’s History Month draws to a close, COPA is pleased to honour and celebrate the achievements of our team member, Deb St. Amant. Deb is an Indigenous consultant working with the COPA team. We feel strongly that she should be recognized as a  remarkable, trailblazing woman that has helped to affect important changes in Ontario.


So #ClaimYourPlace, Deb!



This year, as she did last year, Deb will be visiting different communities in Ontario as part of a COPA project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education. She will provide information about how to use and share COPA’s unique toolkits: A Circle of Caring and Joining the Circle.


Deb says that working with COPA enables her to do what she loves best: share Indigenous ways of knowing and learning. As she has said, "Ontario schools are places that have not always felt safe for Indigenous students from communities affected by the long-term consequences of residential schools and intergenerational trauma.



This year, as she did last year, Deb will be visiting different communities in Ontario as part of a COPA project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education. She will provide information about how to use and share COPA’s unique toolkits: A Circle of Caring and Joining the Circle.


Deb says that working with COPA enables her to do what she loves best: share Indigenous ways of knowing and learning. As she has said, "Ontario schools are places that have not always felt safe for Indigenous students from communities affected by the long-term consequences of residential schools and intergenerational trauma.



Deb celebrating with COPA and her mom the day she won the ETFO award!


In 2016, Deb St. Amant received an Honorary Life Membership Award from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO). A huge honour for anyone, of particular significance is the fact that Deb was the first person of Indigenous ancestry to have been honoured like this by the ETFO. Deb, who describes herself as a naturally shy person, says that her involvement in the teachers’ union originally gave her the confidence to give voice to strong opinions about equity, social justice, Indigenous rights, and the rights of all marginalized peoples. And thus, alongside a 30-year career in teaching, she has also spent much of the last 15 years raising her voice about these issues, and striving to make change happen within the education system of Ontario.


 Deb was born in Penetanguishene and came from a very close-knit family. Her dad was Métis, and her mom is Ojibwe. She grew up knowing how very fortunate she was not to have suffered the kind of discrimination that her parents had. Her mother remembers being called a ‘’squaw’’ and not wanting to ever reveal her First Nations heritage.


 Deb began her involvement in ETFO in 2001 when Kathleen Loftus in the Equity and Women’s Services department of ETFO saw that she had self-identified as Indigenous. Deb was invited to attend a focus group for Aboriginal Women in Education. She says, "I was pretty sure it was going to be a small group – probably me and my cousins that teach in the Penetang area –  because outside of my family, I hadn’t really met any other Indigenous teachers." 



At the meeting Deb was encouraged to become active in Indigenous education and in the union. And so she did, even though she had never really thought of herself as having a place in the federation – because, as an Indigenous woman, she hadn’t seen herself reflected in ETFO’s leadership.


 Deb began her involvement by shadowing the Aboriginal Committee, and then gradually became more active at ETFO in general. She organized her local union’s first Race Relations Retreat in 2004, at Hiawatha First Nations. She was the first Indigenous person elected to ETFO’s provincial executive. 


 In addition to her involvement with ETFO, she became a governor at OTF (Ontario Teachers’ Federation) and served on the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s Aboriginal Issues Committee. And in 2011, Deb represented Canadian Teachers of Aboriginal Ancestry at Education International in Cape Town, South Africa.



Though retired, Deb remains passionate about teaching, as well as her Indigenous ancestry, and so it was natural for her, as a member of the Equity Committee, the Aboriginal Education Standing Committee and the executive of ETFO to begin to speak and inspire awareness in others about Indigenous issues in education.


Deb participated in many conferences, spoke widely about healthy schools, conducted workshops and participated in writing curriculum. She agitated for equity and inclusion both in education and in the governance of ETFO itself, and in general has had a rich and productive career as an activist – and ironical, as she never considered herself to be a ‘political’ person. 

Joining the Circle is a First Nations, Métis and Inuit multimedia toolkit designed for all education staff in schools, boards and communities across Ontario, and emerged out of COPA’s kit A Circle of Caring - a much-praised resource for First Nations, Métis and Inuit families, caregivers and schools. 


Both toolkits include short animated films in several Indigenous languages, along with discussion guides and suggestions of various activities to use in families, communities and classrooms to jumpstart reflection, discussion, dialogue and foster positive action. Topics include cultural pride and identity, understanding bullying, racism and discrimination against First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, helping children succeed, and building and strengthening relationships with Indigenous students and families while nurturing safe and healthy schools and communities.


Order both toolkits from our eBoutique! Or use them online. OR bring us to your community to share this marvelous resource - contact us to arrange it.