Tipi raisings, ribbon skirt workshops, and language classes highlight Sask. Rivers report on Calls to Action progress

The Sask Rivers Education Centre/ Daily Herald File Photo

The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division continues to make progress in addressing some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action.

Superintendent Jennifer Hingley and Indigenous Perspectives Consultant Jodi Letendre gave the board an update on the school division’s progress during Monday’s regular meeting. There are two reports each year with one in June on the full year and the mid-year report on Monday.

The division has been tracking efforts to respond to those calls since 2017. Education Director Robert Bratvold says the progress was encouraging to see.

“Staff are requesting different kinds of support because they have some confidence in insuring those Indigenous ways of knowing and learning are in their classroom,” Bratvold said.

“Now they want to dig deeper and get different kinds of support on that so that is really reassuring.”

Since the TRC published their reported in 2015, Sask. Rivers has increased its focus on teaching Indigenous languages. They’ve also focused on giving teachers more opportunities to learn about Indigenous culture through professional development. That includes things like tipi raisings and ribbon skirt workshops.

Letendre said school staff are now using those experiences to give practical examples of the Indigenous worldview and culture in their classes.

“We need to be careful and not appropriate those cultural and traditional activities, but they are concrete. You can have guidance and leadership from Elders and Knowledge Keepers and have things that happen, activities that happen in schools to support staff and student learning that are really meaningful and not theoretical and philosophical and what if. They are concrete and clear and that’s really helpful,” Bratvold said.

“We also need to dig into some of the deeper things too—that knowledge and ways of knowing and understanding and world views. Sometimes those concrete things can lead into those discussions and those thoughts that go deep into beliefs.”

Hingley said Letendre and coach Theresa Thorenson have done important work in Prince Albert schools.

“They have been very busy this fall leading this work and responding to the calls and also responding to the desire of our staff to really do this well,” Hingley said.

The division has applied for and received funding for to help implement Jordan’s Principle in response to TRC calls to action on child welfare. Jordan’s Principle helps ensure all First Nations children living in Canada can access the products, services, and supports they need, when they need them.

The Mentor program with Jordan’s Principle has expanded with over 30 mentors working in schools to support First Nations students through the funding.

Earlier this year, mentors helped distribute jackets and food hampers from the Prince Albert Grand Council, and took part in Professional Development with various projects throughout the year.

Response to the culturally appropriate curriculum call included revision of Won Ska Cultural School where course selection will reflect land-based learning opportunities, cultural connections with a cross-curricular approach. This approach came from the Elder’s Council and what they saw as Won Ska’s needs as a cultural school. Curriculum work is being done by Bratvold, Patricia Bibby, Hingley and Letendre and the school’s team and creating new curriculum that is land-based and cultural.

As well the learning model for Literacy, Math and High School also all have Indigenous worldview embedded in them.

The call on protecting the right to Aboriginal Languages has expanded in the division and Letendre thanked the board for their support on this matter.

Recent steps include establishing the Cree Language Program at John Diefenbaker School to Grade 2 and establishing a partnership with Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) to create a Michif Language and Culture Program at St. Louis and Queen Mary School in Sept., 2021 which continues to this day,

The division has also created an Indigenous Language Learning Community in Fall of 2021. The group supports Cree and Michif teachers in the division and Language Keepers in early years and high school, a Dakota teacher and Language Keeper and EA at Wahpeton and a Cree teacher at Muskoday.

“For the Indigenous Language Learning Community we also had school divisions join us, so we had

Prairie Spirit, we had Saskatoon Public teachers, (and) Isle La Crosse came,” Hingley explained. “It was a really great learning opportunity and the laughter with the Elders and the laughter in the room and everybody telling stories and speaking the language just reverberated through this whole floor.”

Letendre also mentioned the flag raising ceremony in October under the call for inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives in education and thanked the board for it despite it not being included in the memo itself.

“It’s just a really powerful statement in Truth and Reconciliation and the journey that we are on and the comments from the community, the people that have walked by have noticed them for sure,”

Another growing aspect is the Elder’s Council and other Elders who provide guidance and work directly with students. As part of the call for building capacity for intercultural understanding and mutual respect there has been completion of the first cycle of four Pipe Ceremonies. The division hosted a Fall Feast and Pipe Ceremony in November at Wesmor and a Winter Pipe Ceremony is scheduled for February, 2023 at Princess Margaret.

Another step is the Indigenous worldview is being embedded in Experiential Play Based Learning in classrooms throughout the division and shared in all early years Professional Development and in all Experiential Play Based Learning Professional Development.

Other areas covered during the meeting include, justice, professional development and training for public servants, education for reconciliation, and sports and reconciliation.

The division has also supported KidsFirst, helped schools access Catholic Family Services, and worked in partnership with the Prince Albert Early Years Resource Centre to address calls to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs.

“There was lots of really positive signs, really positive activities,” Bratvold said. “The activities are important, but going deeper into that in terms of ways of knowing and world views and the ideas of truth before reconciliation, (and) understanding the truth of our history, those are sometimes a little more difficult, but really highlighted in that report.”