Shirley Williams received the Award of Excellence in teaching.

Shirley Williams received the Award of Excellence in teaching.

By Julie Kapyrka

PETERBOROUGH – Anishinaabe-kwe Shirley Ida Williams nee Pheasant, a Professor Emeritus and Instructor in Indigenous Studies at Trent University, has been named the 2016 recipient of the CUPE 3908-1 Award for Excellence in Teaching. This award is presented to a member of the part-time faculty at Trent University, and recognizes the positive impact contract instructors have on students and their learning.

Shirley was recognized and celebrated at a special awards ceremony hosted at Trent University on March 31. Through a nomination process Professor Williams was acknowledged for her caring and positive approach to teaching. She was recognized for her ability to create warm, welcoming learning spaces where students feel comfortable, supported, and motivated. Her care, passion, and concern creates a fun loving environment where language and knowledge is conveyed to younger generations.

Both students and faculty are positively impacted by their experiences with Shirley. The nominations exuded enthusiasm and high praise for her teaching:

“She is a warm and caring person… She uses humour and a big smile to foster a spirit of resilience, determination, and positive actions for the future.”

“Shirley takes care to impart her knowledge on younger generations. Her teaching style is patient, and she is welcoming to all.”

“Shirley Williams is a great example of all Trent has to offer. She bridges the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canada in a positive and meaningful way.”

The recognition of such excellence in teaching serves to confirm the important role that Elders play as part of the learning environment in universities.

Shirley Ida Williams is Bird Clan, from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory and she credits her parents and elders not only for teaching her the language and knowledge of her people but also for motivating her to teach the language and giving her the framework upon which to do so. Shirley went on to receive her B.A. in Indigenous Studies from Trent University, Diplomas from the Native Languages Instructor Program at Lakehead University and Curriculum Development Program at the University of Oklahoma, and a Master’s in Environmental Studies from York University. She joined the Department of Indigenous Studies at Trent University in 1986 to develop and teach language programs. Although she retired in 2004, Shirley sits as an Elder for the PhD Program as well as for students in undergraduate studies.

“It was a great honour to have been chosen to receive this award as one of the Anishinaabe-kwewag from the Trent faculty and to be recognized for best practices for teaching Anishinaabemowin here at Trent. For me, I just started with the students, finding out what they liked learning and then related those things to the language. In this way they really appreciated what they were learning.”

“When I began to teach, I remember what my elder, mentor, and predecessor Fred Wheatley-ba once told me: ‘Education should be fun. It should be fun to learn. Do not make it too difficult for them to learn. Make it fun for your students to learn the language.’ So I made that a priority – to try and teach students to have fun in the classroom and to make learning the language enjoyable in order for them to truly learn. When I became a Professor, I vowed that I would make it fun instead of the way I was taught from the Residential School, which was not a very nice atmosphere.”

Not only does Shirley teach language courses, she also contributes to curriculum development and delivery with regard to language education on-the-land courses. Shirley has also written several language books including a seminal introductory textbook for Anishinaabemowin instruction. She has lectured across Canada promoting Anishinaabe language and culture and worked on many language training and translation projects for Heritage Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Education, Department of Indian Affairs and other national organizations. In addition, Shirley is also called upon by various institutions and groups to provide expert instruction in an advisory capacity as an Elder. She is an Elder for Fleming College and Trent University and is Cultural Advisor for Durham College and the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology. She also sits as an Elder for the Chiefs of Ontario regarding health programming. Recently she participated on a panel discussing the role of the university with regards to “education for reconciliation” to which she stressed the responsibility of the academy to support and cultivate Indigenous language programs.

Generously offering her time and commitment, Shirley Ida Williams nee Pheasant is also the lead Elder, advocate, organizer and visionary for the Annual Water Awareness Walk in the Kawarthas. She has helped to co-ordinate this event and has led walks in ceremony for various bodies of water throughout the Trent Severn Waterway for the past 6 years. This Mother’s Day will mark the 7th and final water walk for this group in honour of the 7 generations.

Nokomis Williams is a beautiful shining example of what “teaching excellence” means. Her effort, enthusiasm, and kind energy in the work that she does is inspirational and serves as a model of strength, compassion, and leadership for the youth. She continues her work with her language and culture to the present day and offers a personal message to anyone teaching the language: “As educators, we need to turn that education (decolonize ourselves) around to the way we learn best, to have fun learning, and ‘to treat the people the way we would wanted to be treated.’ And in this way students will work better, learn better and succeed better in achieving their potential. I send you the same message Fred Wheatley gave to me: Make learning the language fun. Education should be fun.”

Shirley acknowledges her parents for teaching her important life lessons: “To never give up and to look at education (school) as work. As my father used to say, “No work, no pay.” So when we get education and we appreciate what we learn, it is part of growth. We are then better able to do whatever is needed and to contribute in society. As mom used to say, ‘When we leave this world, the Creator is going to ask: What have you done for your community? How did you contribute?’ So we need to prepare ourselves so we can have a good story of what we did.”

Perseverance, commitment, hard work, and fun! Gchi miigwech Shirley Ida Williams nee Pheasant for all that you do for your community – it is indeed a good story to tell.

Anishinaabemowin resources for teaching by Shirley Williams are available at

The following can be used in language courses as textbooks:

1-Gdi-nweninaa-Our Sound, Our Voice. Neganigwane Company 2002.
2-Eshkintam Nishinaabemang Mzinagan-Introduction to Nishnabewin. Neganigwane Company 1996.
3- Anatomy and Coverings: Anagrams, Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches. Neganigwane Company 2004.
Animal World: Anagrams, Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches. Neganigwane Company 2004.
5- Structures and Tools: Anagrams, Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches. Neganigwane Company 2004.
6 Food: Anagrams, Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches. Neganigwane Company 2004
7- Rip Roaring Hockey – Zhooshkwaadekamogad CD-ROM Neganigwane Company 2003.

8- When I was a child-Giibigaachiinyaanh booklet 2015.

9- Let’s Go Fishing Paa Giigoonh Ke Daa. By Shirley Williams and Jim Shearer. Illustrated by Liz Gauthier. Neganigwane Company 2013.

10- Aandeg #2 (The Crow) 2nd printing. By Shirley Williams and Kim Lamothe. Illustrated by Liz Gauthier Neganigwane Company 2006.
11- Gchi-kwiiwin gdawmi (We Are All Treaty People), paper ed. by Maurice Switzer. Translated by Shirley Williams. Illustrated by Charley Hebert. Union of Ontario Indians 2015.