Beloved Prince Albert teacher loses fight against COVID-19

Victor Thunderchild called on the province to include teachers in phase 1 vaccinations from his Prince Albert hospital bed

Herald file photo. Victor Thunderchild leads the opening ceremonies for Carlton Comprehensive High School's Indigenous Day on Sept. 27, 2019. Thunderchild was recognized for his work at an Outstanding Indigenous Educator by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation

A Prince Albert high school teacher, counsellor and passionate advocate has passed away.

Multiple reports Saturday indicated that Victor Thunderchild, a teacher at Carlton Comprehensive High School, lost his battle with COVID-19 Friday night after a two-week hospital stay.

Thunderchild was known throughout the city and beyond for his work promoting greater understanding and inclusion of Indigenous heritage, culture and teachings. He was proud of his heritage and helped lead initiatives such as the development of the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division’s Cree language course.

Some reports indicated that Thunderchild may have been exposed to COVID-19 at school.

On April 5 he Tweeted from his hospital bed, urging the province to add teachers to the list of frontline workers eligible for early vaccination.

“Thank you @PremierScottMoe for not thinking we’re essential workers, as I sit in the @PAHealthDept Vic hospital recovering from Covid-19. Get my fellow teachers vaccinated, before this happens to anyone else,” he wrote.

The Tweet was shared over 180 times.

Condolences poured in over social media with people calling Thunderchild a great mentor and crediting him with changing the lives of multiple students.

Community Building Youth Futures Prince Albert (CBYF PA) called on community members to come together by printing a poster or painting your window with an apple and feather.

“Last night, we lost a true leader in our community. Victor touched the lives of more people than anyone can count,” they wrote.

“We are somewhat at a loss for words, but needed to do something to bring the community together in support for Victor’s family and all those who he has impacted. As COVID prevents us from gathering together to celebrate his life and the impact he has made on our community, to mourn, and support one another, we want to invite the community to come together by showing support with either this poster in your window or by painting your window with an apple and feather.”

Author, artist and fellow teacher John McDonald said on Facebook that Thunderchild was one of his greatest mentors.

“Okiskinwahamakew. This is the Nehiyawak word for ‘teacher,'” McDonald wrote in a public Facebook post.

“This was the teacher who first gave me encouragement to rediscover my culture. He became a colleague, a friend, and a role model for how to be an Educator. I am unbelievably gutted. … Rest easy, Warrior. Please, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home, and get the vaccine.”

Thunderchild’s school, Carlton Comprehensive, shared the apple poster on Facebook Saturday with just three words. “We are heartbroken.”

The school is part of the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, which issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying they were “stricken” by the news.

“SRPSD was stricken to learn of the passing of Victor Thunderchild,” wrote director of education Robert Bratvold.

” Our condolences go out to Victor’s family, friends and the many, many people he has influenced throughout his life. Victor was a much-loved teacher and counsellor at Carlton Comprehensive public High School for 29 years; he was a leader and supporter of many division-wide efforts and was an integral part of the wider community as well. He will be deeply missed. Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division will provide support Victor’s family in whatever ways we can as we also support our students and staff through this difficult time.”

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation tweeted their condolences Saturday morning.

“We are deeply saddened by Victor Thunderchild’s passing. He was a passionate educator and an active member of the STF,” they wrote. “He will be greatly missed by all. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, students and colleagues @PACarlton and @SSRPD119.”

Others amplified his April 5 message and blamed the government for not acting sooner.

The STF has criticized the government’s exclusion of teachers from the vaccine priority list. The list has been amended to add more health care workers, first responders and grocery store workers.

Critics, though, have argued teachers and correctional officers should be added to that list.

The Herald would like to add its voice to those expressing condolences for this great loss. Thunderchild’s legacy was well-known in the community.

Our thoughts are with his family.