The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) is mourning the loss of a dedicated fighter for indigenous treaty rights in education.
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Educator and longtime FSIN employee Carole Violet Sanderson passed away on Sunday in Prince Albert. Throughout her life, Sanderson played a key role in defending First Nations treaty rights in education. Wake and memorial services will be held on Wednesday and Thursday at Sturgeon Lake.
Teacher and longtime FSIN employee Carole Violet Sanderson died on Sunday in Prince Albert after a long battle for her health. She was 73.
First Nations residents remember Sanderson as a lifelong advocate for the defence of treaty rights in education.
“She was an educator by profession and she just kept that up all her life, as a teacher and as a leader and as a person who developed programming for First Nations people,” former FSIN communications director Doug Cuthand said.
“She definitely made a big impact. There are a lot of people out there that look back on the work that she did and others at the time and it really changed the face of Saskatchewan First Nations.”
Sanderson was born at Sturgeon Lake First Nation to William and Hannah Kingfisher in 1939. As a young child in 1945, she was taken away from her family to attend a residential school.
After high school, Sanderson attended teachers college in Saskatoon, becoming one of the first indigenous post-secondary graduates in the province. She spent many years thereafter as an on-reserve classroom teacher, during which she became convinced that change was needed in First Nations education.
Becoming one of the first employees of the fledgling FSIN, Sanderson took a leading role in re-establishing First Nations control over education through her work as a researcher on a special task force.
“The federal government had been transferring education over to the local school boards and the province, and there was no First Nations control,” Cuthand said.
“So what people started to do was to push back and you had people taking kids out of school and insisting on the school on reserve, and that’s where you get all those schools on reserves today.”
“It wasn’t the government’s plan,” he added. “It was the First Nations plan, and she was very much a part of that. She was working with the bands and helping them establish their own education systems and working with chiefs and councils and that type of thing.”
Sanderson helped craft the policy Indian Control of Indian Education in 1972 alongside fellow academics, in addition to her work drafting the FSIN Education Act.
Her contributions helped lead to the establishment of the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre (formerly the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College), the First Nations University of Canada (formerly Saskatchewan Indian Federated College) and SIAST.
She was an educator by profession and she just kept that up all her life, as a teacher and as a leader and as a person who developed programming for First Nations people. Doug Cuthand
Formal recognition of Sanderson’s work in indigenous education came when she received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1994 and the Order of Canada in 1998.
Over the years, she sat with every prime minister from Pierre Trudeau to Paul Martin and helped contribute to the Canadian Constitution, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and hundreds of other studies, position papers and pieces of legislation.
“Her voice was definitely heard at the table, because she was keen and knowledgeable on all the issues that were coming to the table,” FSIN second vice chief in charge of the education portfolio Bobby Cameron said.
He added, “She was a lady who did the research, who did the reading before she went into a meeting so she could arm herself with the certain issues that are being tabled.”
The impact of Sanderson’s work is visible today in the dramatic growth of First Nations-controlled education.
Cuthand pointed to the schools’ vastly increased resources and staff compared to previous decades.
“When we had the off-reserve schools, there was virtually nothing happening on reserves with the on-reserve schools,” he said.
“We now have bus drivers and schoolteachers and the school administrators and the support services, like janitorial … I’d say that the work that the FSIN did during that time -- and she was a big part of it -- definitely had an impact on the standard of living of the Saskatchewan Indian people.”
Sanderson is survived by her daughters Dawn Sanderson-Robins, Andrea Sanderson and their father, former FSIN chief and Senator Sol Sanderson, as well as by her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.
Wake services will be held in the west end hall at Sturgeon Lake First Nation on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 21. A memorial funeral service will take place at Sturgeon Lake Hall on Thursday at 11 a.m.
Donations to the First Nations University of Canada for a scholarship in Sanderson’s name may be made in lieu of flowers. Those interested in donating should contact Grace McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org or 790-5950.