Chemainus Secondary School 2001 graduate Vanessa Tan credits teacher Janet Ruest for steering her on the path toward the successes she’s currently enjoying in her career.
Tan, nee Nordstrom, grew up in Crofton, and worked for three summers as a Totem Tour Guide and Downtown Duncan Youth Ambassador during her university years. Although she has now lived away from the valley for many years, growing up here provided the foundation for becoming the educator and citizen she is today.
“I had a very formative educational experience attending Chemainus Secondary School for Grades 8-12,” writes Tan. “Of the many encouraging teachers I had, the nationally celebrated Janet Ruest (my former history and geography teacher) has been highly influential to my path to becoming an educator and for developing my interest in understanding the truth of our nation’s history regarding the devastating impact of colonization on First Nations communities.”
After graduating from Chemainus Secondary School, Tan went on to study Anthropology and First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University. She subsequently completed a Bachelor of Education in Global Education with multicultural field studies at both the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago and Laval University in Quebec.
Tan has worked as a K-12 educator in Metro Vancouver for the past 10 years.
She was recently selected out of 5,000 applicants nationwide to participate in the Canada C3 Expedition as a journey participant based on her vision for reconciliation in Canada. The Canada C3 Expedition is a Canada 150 Signature project that launched June 1 from Toronto.
The Canada C3 ship named ‘Polar Prince’ is currently sailing around the arctic coast of Canada to engage Canadians in conversations about the environment, reconciliation, youth engagement, and diversity and inclusion. Tan will be joining two C3 youth ambassadors, Severn Suzuki, and many other notable Canadians on Leg 13 from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and Bella Bella in early October.
As a participant on this expedition, her personal on-board project is to write an environment and reconciliation-themed children’s story titled ‘Even Whale Songs Change’ inspired by the lyrics to a song of the same name that her father, local musician Monte Nordstrom, wrote and performed for the Yukon International Storytelling Festival.
“I became involved with the Canada C3 National Teacher Advisory Committee as a curriculum reviewer last November, and I developed a reconciliation module called ‘Peace Dancer: Reconciliation and First Peoples Principles of Learning’ which can be downloaded from the Canada C3 Digital Learning Classroom and is available in English and French,” explained Tan.
“It is based on the Tsimshian story authored by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd. In May, I had an opportunity to meet Vickers and personally present him with a copy of my module and share with him how his story ‘Peace Dancer’ has become the focal point of my teaching about reconciliation.
“Recently, he received a batch of postcards sent by students from Surrey schools who have participated in my digital learning module based on his book. He said he was overcome by the students’ engagement with his storytelling and it will take him some time to think about how to respond to the letters and illustrations.”
To add context to Tan’s body of work based on the theme of reconciliation, here are a few other projects she initiated this year:
“In April, I mentored a pre-service Anishinaabe teacher to create land-based curriculum for a giant floor map project associated with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Canadian Geographic Education, and Polar Knowledge Canada,” Tan indicated. “The floor map will be travelling from school to school across Canada where students will have the opportunity to practice land-based learning. At the end of October, Canadian Geographic will film me and my mentor-student teaching elementary students with the giant floor map.”
Another initiative she put forward this year to promote community engagement with reconciliation and the environment was a proposal to facilitate a Reconciliation Bottle Cap Mural Project, shortlisted in May for this year’s New Westminster community ONE Prize.
Tan indicated she’s passionate about engaging community through art and storytelling and on June 1 launched a nationwide 150-day Facebook writing project called ‘Write Here Canada’.
Write Here Canada is open to all Canadians who wish to share original land-based and people-inspired stories and poems in exactly 150 words in English, French, or Indigenous languages. At the end of the 150 days, the stories will be curated into an anthology of Canadian voices on www.wattpad.com.
Tan starts on a Master of Education degree with the University of Saskatchewan this fall to learn more about how to meaningfully engage Canadian teachers in understanding both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for education and the First Peoples Principles of Learning as a critical cultural competency for all Canadian students.