A unique school division in Saskatchewan has received the 2023 Premier’s Board of Education Award for Innovation and Excellence in Education.
The Ile-a-la Crosse School Division Board of Education was recognized for its “Historic Submission for the First Indigenous controlled Board of Education in Saskatchewan: Ile-a-la Crosse Northern School Administration Area No. 1 formed by Minister’s order May 6, 1974”.
Ile-a-la Crosse School Division Board chair Duane Favel said they were pleased to be recognized.
“We’re tremendously honoured as a municipality, (and) as a school division. We were pretty proud,” Favel said.
“Having our own school division gives us a real sense of purpose to instill the culture and the language within our students and from that, they take a great sense of pride in who they are. Knowing and understanding who they are and where they come from provides that that solid foundation that our students need as they graduate from our high school.”
Favel credited past visionary leaders for forming the school division. He said those leaders wanted to see Indigenous language and culture integrated into the school systems, and that vision has become a reality.
“We’ve got a strong Michif program in our school and the culture is basically implemented within the school on a daily basis,” he said.
Ile-a-la Crosse Northern School Administration Area No. 1 was formed by Minister’s order May 6, 1974, according to the division’s award application. The school board made decisions about the construction of the new school, which was designed by Metis architect Douglas Cardinal.
They hired 21 new teachers that first year with only 1 teacher remaining from the previous year. No longer was it forbidden to speak Cree at school and resources with racist ideas were weeded out.
By January 1, 1975, all assets of the school division were controlled by the new board. This was the first-time Indigenous people were making decisions about who would teach their child and administer the school, the responsiveness of school, the school’s awareness of colonization and oppression and most people were enthusiastic. Ile-a-la Crosse Temporary Education Committee and the subsequent elected Board of Education were the first Indigenous controlled boards of education in Saskatchewan.
Favel said that when they entered they felt that their submission stood a good chance to win the award.
“When we were told we were gonna receive it I was absolutely honoured,” Favel said. “I say that because we’re going to be celebrating our school division’s 50 years, for the existence of our school division here in May of 2024. To receive this kind of recognition and acknowledgement, it just gives me a sense of pride for the visionary leadership that we had in the past.”
The province was also proud to recognize the division.
“The Government of Saskatchewan is pleased to recognize Ile-a-la Crosse School Division Board of Education as this year’s award winner,” Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill said on behalf of Premier Scott Moe in a release.
“The formation of the board in 1974 was a profound moment in Saskatchewan’s history and one that has had lasting positive impacts on northern students, families, and communities.”
Xerox Canada has sponsored this award since its development in 1999 and increased the prize amount to $5,000 this year. The award recipient is recommended by a panel of education sector partners.
Xerox is pleased to continue the long-standing partnership with the SSBA through the sponsorship of the Premier’s Award.
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) co-ordinates the Premier’s Award each year.
The award was presented on behalf of Premier Scott Moe during the SSBA’s Annual General Assembly on Monday. Nov. 13 in Regina.