While First Nations bands across the province fight for their own uniquely tailored education acts for schools on reserve, educators within city schools continue to work on First Nations and Métis programming.
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Although they operate on a multicultural framework, Saskatchewan Rivers School Division superintendent John Schultz said that since about half their students are of First Nations or Métis ancestry, it makes sense their culture sees special focus.
“It’s an obvious thing that we’d make sure we have very authentic, organized outcomes that make sense for our students that are First Nations and Métis,” he said.
“We want to make sure that students, no matter where they come from, have the same opportunities.”
Sharing an office at school division headquarters, Linda Greyeyes Highway and Tracy Bloomquist make up the nerve centre of First Nations programming throughout the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division.
As the division’s integrated learning consultant, Bloomquist’s key mission is to infuse First Nations and Métis perspective throughout the division’s curriculum
Serving as an aboriginal consultant, Highway is focused on partnerships, cultural programming and networking.
On the partnerships front, she cites last year’s signing of a memorandum of understanding with Muskoday First Nation as a recent success story.
“A lot of the Muskoday students end up coming to our high schools because their school is K-9,” she said, noting that this transition might feel jarring to some students -- a transition they aim to smooth out as much as possible by offering culturally relevant programming.
“All kids come to school with strengths, and as a school division we need to acknowledge and respect the strengths that a student comes with,” she said.
In order to get the best out of students, they need a positive sense of identity and their cultural needs met, she said.
“The end goal is always to make sure the child’s needs are being met,” she summarized.
There are too many First Nations and Métis cultural programs to list, Schultz said, citing last year’s treaty fair at Riverside School for Grade 7 students throughout the city as perhaps the most publicly visible effort.
The division is also striving for a representative workforce, wherein there’s a healthy portion First Nations and Métis educators within the faculty.
It’s an obvious thing that we’d make sure we have very authentic, organized outcomes that make sense for our students that are First Nations and Métis. John Schultz
“We’re working at it,” Schultz said, adding that it’s important for students to have positive role models of their own cultural background.
“If you get people teaching that are of the culture you’re trying to serve, that makes some sense,” he concluded.
A recent mentorship program has helped on this front, Highway said, noting that about half of the 10 mentors spread through Saskatchewan Rivers School Division high schools are of First Nations or Métis ancestry.
One of these mentors, Wilma Felix, is known as the kokum of the group, she said.
“She has a really big network of cultural people, as well -- traditional people she can call on should the school need it,” Highway said.
Having elders come into the schools have proven a very effective means of sharing and celebrating aboriginal culture, she said, noting that they are a key source of traditional knowledge.
“The elders are the ones who carry our history,” Highway said, adding that without elders, they’d be “Indian people with no direction.”
Adhering to the provincial curriculum, Lorel Trumier said that all schools within the Prince Albert Catholic School Division use the “We are all Treaty People” program for Grades 1 to 8.
“Throughout the curriculum it’s woven into the curriculum and there are elements at each grade level,” the director of education said.
In addition to weaving First Nations and Métis teachings throughout the curriculum, the division has elective classes on First Nations languages and a high school elective on First Nations studies.
All First Nations and Métis programming within each school division is available to all students, regardless of race.
Better understanding of the cultures of those around you helps nip racism in the bud, Highway said.
“Canada -- this is First Nation land. This is First Nation country,” she said.
“It’s very important that aboriginal people and non aboriginal people -- we learn each other’s history and why things have happened.”