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Tanya Senk was officially appointed System Superintendent in April 2021
By: Hilary Caton, Communications Officer
As the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) first Indigenous System Superintendent of Indigenous Education, Tanya Senk, intends to create systemic change for future and current Indigenous Peoples in the education system.
Tanya, who is Métis/Cree/Saulteaux and is of proud relation to Louis Riel, plans to deepen the knowledge of Indigenous perspectives, through the understanding that Indigenous Education is for everyone. She also intends to continue the Board’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.
“I like to call it leaving good tracks,” she says.
“I want to leave good tracks for generations to come.”
By using her combined lived experience and extensive knowledge of Urban Indigenous Education, Sovereignty and Self-Determination, she is hopeful that she can make improvements and changes that are beneficial to the Indigenous communities that the largest school board in Canada serves.
This includes having a role in recruiting, hiring and retaining Indigenous staff and offering opportunities to learn from and work with Indigenous Peoples across the organization.
“I hope to advance Indigenous Education to collaboratively create the conditions needed for possible transformation within the Board, that will support Indigenous student success, well-being and achievements,” says Tanya.
“I also hope to deepen awareness and knowledge with regards to Indigenous perspectives, histories and contemporary realities of Indigenous Peoples and to build capacity across the system.”
The creation of this position is another important step the TDSB has taken to respect and honour Indigenous Sovereignty and reaffirm its commitment to building Nation-to-Nation relationships. As Tanya settles into this new role, she intends to continue furthering the Board’s commitment to that relationship, while continuing to lead the work of the Urban Indigenous Education Centre and Kapapamahchakwew / Wandering Spirit School.
As the TDSB’s first Indigenous System Superintendent of Indigenous Education, Tanya is aware of the great significance of this role.
“It (this role) is incredibly important, it's a huge responsibility. I also think it's long overdue,” she says.
“We have an incredibly diverse population here in Toronto and it also has the highest population of Indigenous Peoples in all of Ontario combined. First Nations, Métis and Inuit people are grossly underrepresented in systems of public schooling in all sectors of the organization and particularly within administrative and senior roles.”
The TDSB’s Elders Council through the Urban Indigenous Education Centre guided the process and held Tanya up to the role and encouraged her to “break the birch bark ceiling,” as Elder Duke Redbird says.
As a member of the TDSB for 23 years, Tanya has led system direction, including the strategic planning and vision of the Urban Indigenous Education Centre. She was also the Principal of the Kapapamahchakwew – Wandering Spirit School, K-12 and is currently the Superintendent of the school. She continues to work closely with Elder Pauline Shirt, the founder of Kapapamahchakwew and the Elders Council.
“I never saw myself represented or if I was, it was grossly distorted. So, I stopped self-identifying around Grade 6. I didn't start self-identifying again until much later in my schooling,” she says.
It’s around that time Tanya decided she wanted to be the change she wanted to see in the education system.
As she got older, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from York University and got her first job at the TDSB Brookview Middle. From there she completed her Masters in Indigenous Education from York University and is currently pursuing her PhD in Urban Indigenous Education, Decolonizing Education Law and Human Rights.
“It’s time to build capacity and support succession planning in our own Board and across boards for other Indigenous Peoples because for a long time non-Indigenous people have occupied these positions,” says Tanya.
“In the end, what I hope to do is amplify the voices of Indigenous People and their work across all areas of the curriculum.”