March 1, 2024

‘It starts with a smudge’: Chantel Large shares how Indigenous knowledge has shaped her teaching

2023 Indigenous Ways of Knowing Award honours Faculty of Social Work educator
A woman sits in front of a colourful piece of art
Chantel Large Elyse Bouvier, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s what they say, right? For Chantel Large, it rings true.

“I love the field of social work. I think it is one of the greatest privileges of my life that I get to earn a living by helping people. I can’t understand why everybody is not a social worker,” says Large, a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Social Work. 

“We talk in class a lot about the history of social work and the ways in which it has been oppressive against marginalized people and Indigenous Peoples in particular, and the ways in which the field sometimes still is oppressive,” she says. “We all have a lot of learning and growth to do, myself included.”

Large is the 2023 recipient of the University of Calgary Teaching Award for Indigenous Ways of Knowing, an institutional award launched in 2022. It recognizes an individual or group who has advanced Indigenous Ways of Knowing, and supported truth and reconciliation, decolonization, Indigenous engagement and transformation in an academic course or program. 

“I’ve been teaching now at the university since 2018. When I think back to my very first class I taught, I started with a smudge. Back then, I couldn’t smudge in classrooms here at the University of Calgary, so I would smudge in my vehicle before I went to class, and I would pray that I was able to teach in a way that these students who I was encountering would go out into the world as social workers and not cause harm,” she says. 

“They're going to be working with my nieces and nephews and my relatives. And I want to ensure that they understand Indigenous Peoples and their experiences and understand that different way of knowing and different way of being, so they can go out in the world and do work in a good way, in a way that's not going to harm them or impose anything on them.”

Large connects with her students through storytelling, sharing personal pieces of her own life and bringing in Indigenous Peoples to her classrooms to offer their own lived experiences. 

“The feedback that I’ve gotten is that it really hits different,” she says. “I often get my mom to come into the class and talk about her experiences in residential school, and the students' feedback is always that it’s very different when you’re reading it in a book, to when you’re talking to someone who has experienced it.

“It connects them to this part of history that isn’t really history. It’s a part of history that we still have to navigate, learn from and heal from today,” she says. 

One of the biggest inspirations for Large is the students she works with in her courses. 

“They come with so many gifts and so much knowledge and very strong voices for advocacy and for change and for a real yearning to want to do this in a good way. And I think that that's what excites me most.”

Learn more about the University of Calgary Teaching Awards

Since 2014, the University of Calgary Teaching Awards have recognized and celebrated outstanding contributions to teaching and learning. The University of Calgary Teaching Awards comprised 15 categories that recognize teaching excellence in diverse learning contexts by individuals and teams through curriculum design and educational leadership. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to nominate individuals and groups who make outstanding contributions to enriching the quality and breadth of learning.

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