- From Sally's
story, what are some of theimportant roles she has played as an
Aboriginal person in her school and community?
- How do these
roles differ from the roles you play as an educator?
- What would
Sally ad to your school context?
- How could
schools that do not have significant First Nations student populations
make space for Sally's Aboriginal knowledge?
the Dene Spirit Alive
Dene and he grew up on his home reserve in northern Saskatchewan
but he also spent considerable time in residential school. After
teaching middle years students for several years he became a Dene
language developer for his school division.
I grew up
in a little reserve called Dipper Lake and there were only about
10 families. It's north of where my parents reserve is located.
At that time, it was a permanent community for that group of Dene
people. In the fall time there would be trapping and in the summer
there would be fishing, picking berries, hunting, learning about
the land and its signs and that kind of stuff. My parents and
my grandmother taught me how to speak, do a little bit of trapping
a nd a lot of everyday stuff. They are the people that influenced
me and helped me maintain my language and culture. The value that
they taught me that really sticks in my mind is respecting older
people. You'd go visit and you didn't have to knock. You would
go in the door. If they didn't tell you to take off your shoes
you just stood there by the door and visited. People used to share
quite a bit. Anybody that would kill a moose would share it. You
didn't have to ask because if they knew you were out of food they
would provide you with something to keep you going. They knew
who needed what and there was respect and sharing. People were
trying to be on an equal basis with everything. They didn't try
to compare families.
were very strong in support of language. They told me, "Once
you lose your language, you've lost your spirit. You're lost."
My parents taught me how to survive. If you weren't able to kill
a moose, then you'd have to find alternatives for meat. You'd
have to dig into whatever it was, whether it was a squirrel or
porcupine. They taught me to be able to think of theings that
would help me to make it through stages of my life. I remember
my grandmother teaching me things like my mom and dad taught me
by talking about certain things. I remember her constantly making
birch bark baskets and I used to to go out with her and there
would be a whole bunch of birch trees in the woods. She would
look for the right type of birch and the right type of roots.
I remember her being selective and not just taking whatever you
come up with first. She didn't just go out in the bush and say,
"Okay, this will do, and if you don't like it throw it away."
That's not the way she was. It was a matter of selecting certain
trees and not wasting stuff. That's what I remember about her.
There are things that she taught me that have influenced who I
I didn't go
to school until I was 9 years old. I started school at the student
residence and that was a totally different experience. At first
it was scary because it was one big building and everybody slept
in this one big room. There were people from lots of different
placed mixed in there. There were people from back home but it
wasn't like being with your family. You were just a number and
it was different and it was scary. You didn't know how to approach
the nuns, the priests, or the brothers because they had their
own set of rules to follow. The first three years weren't all
that happy becuase I wasn't used to being away from home. I was
learning a whole new lifestyle and I was cooped up in one building
and not able to do what I wanted to do like go out in the bush
to hunt birds or animals. That was taken awy from us and you couldn't
cope with that. We had to live by a set of rules which we didn't
know how to approach and we were constantly watching over our
shoulder and wondering what would happen? "What can I do
today without them knowing?" They didn't like the fact that
we spoke our own language, whether it be Cree or Dene. On Saturdays
we got away to set snares which was good in that sense. We were
able to be free at this time and do whatever we wanted. We could
sneak a little bit of bread and bologna and catch yourself a rabbit
or a partridge. That was the only time we would be able to communicate
with the other Dene people that were going to school with us.
When I went
to the residential school, their philosophy of religion was practically
shoved on me and I didn't have any say over it. "You learn
this because this is what we want you to learn." They practically
wanted you to become a prienst and it wasn't really related to
the way that I was brought up. Although my parents were religious,
they still had a lot of respect for the land. They knew that all
these things came from somewhere and if you destroyed that then
you destroyed everything else around you. Church, to me, is not
just going to a building and sitting there and meditating. So
I came to the belief that church is out there because the land
was put there for a reason for people to use destructively or
productively, whichever way you want to look at it. It is out
there for a reason and you have to respect that.
very important in my development because it focused on certain
things about who I was and I didn't want to lose that. I didn't
want to lose my language. My dad told me all the time, "You've
got to keep your language. You've go to keep talking even if you're
away from it. You've go to keep thinking in that frame of mind."
When I first
graduated I started to teach in a far northern community. That
was way back in '89. The first year I taught grades 3 and 4, and
I also taught Dene. I was teaching Dene for Grade 4 all they way
up to Grade 9. One of the first experiences I had there was teaching
shop and I never had any kind of background in shop work. I think
the highlight of that year was the cultural type camp where we
took about twenty students up North in March. We had the kids
learning about hunting and preparing meat and that kind of stuff.
It basically showed students how to hunt caribou, prepare caribou
and some basic survival activities. As far as the cultural camp
goes, they learned the basic traditional skills. They learned
to start a fire, make bannock and dry meat, and they learned how
to cut up caribou. They also learned how to live together as a
group cooperatively. There wer certain tudents in that community
that have never had the experience of being on the trap line or
going hunting. We gave them the expereince of how it is to live
on the trap line and go hunting. I thought that's the way education
should be because a long time ago, young Native people learned
things by steadily observing everyday things through their parents,
grandparents, hunters and trappers. If they went out with a trapper
or a hunter then they observed and if they were doing something
that wasn't right, then they would probably say, "Okay, this
is they way it is done, see if you can do it that way." Observing
and then doing things; not the other way around. The other way
around is, "You read this now and then you go and do it."
It's totally opposite from the way I was taught things. So when
I went to the culture camp that was the kin d of thing I had in
mind. The first time they put up a meat stand some of them just
chopped off any kind of green trees and put it up there. This
older lady told them, "Okay, that's not right. You go back
into the woods and you find dry trees, then you put it up there."
They said "Why?". She told them that if they put the
meat on green trees that it will absorb the taste of the bark.
Some of them didn't know about that kind of stuff, so I guessx
those are the kinds of things that we were getting at.
was a mixture of English and Dene. I would say something in English
and I would get them to say it back to me in Dene to see if they
understood the word. It was very helpful because I knew what was
being said at that level. Sometimes I would refer back to Dene
and then have them translate it back into English. This back and
forth between English and Dene helped them to understand. There
are a lot of things that you can do using the community such as
the thinking of the elders and the parents, and the way they do
things. The thought processes are different when you're thinking
in Dene and then you're teaching them in English. You have to
translate from Dene to English and most of the time it's kind
of reversed when you're talking about the language part of it.
The students had the opportunity to use a Dene way of thiking
in another kind of cultural setting because the concepts are bsically
different when you're talking in Dene. There are differences in
gender-type things because there is no she and there is no he
I could speak
the language and I could write, but the only thing was there wasn't
a scope and sequence or a program that set it up for the whole
year. We were lacking in materials and you had to make materials
as you went along which took quite a bit of time. That was a major
drawback when I first started. I was teaching a language that
hasn't been taught in a classroom setting. It wasn't a surprise
to me to find their fluency level being so high. I expected that
kind of fluency in the Dene language because I knew at that time
this community plus two others were very fluent. I was looking
forward to going up there because at the same time I would be
able to use my own language in a classroom setting. We did a lot
of language arts because I wanted to get them to understand the
concepts that they knew in Dene.
was a lot different with those people that stayed in the community
and didn't go out on the trap line. The people who spent time
in the bush knew how to survive, how to set traps, and how to
be alone by themselves. They could use more complete words in
the Dene language. I found them to be more respectful and a little
bit more mature and a little bit more helpful in situations. It
would be a lot easier if you were able to teach a lot of those
things in Dene, so they would understand it. All these different
kinds of terms such as, "ice conditions", "weather
conditions", and what to look for when you go hunting are
the things they know because their parents talk about that all
the time. It would be nice to talk about those kinds of things
in the classroom in Dene.
often a lot of activity going on in the classroom and sometimes
somebody says something to another student that is not very nice.
When this happened I would basically stop everything and talk
to them about respect. I would ask them how the people of Wollaston
show respect for each other? I did this so they could relate back
to what they had done in the classroom and were able to see how
people acted within the community. How do you do that within your
own community level? Basically, I wanted them to think about the
way things were done in the community. I always tried to put it
back to how the community would handle this kind of a situation.
It got them thinking and I think it helped in the long-run.
It was really
helpful to be able to understand the language because sometimes
they would go ahead and say something mean. It was a slip of the
tongue type thing, but I would understand them. We'd been taught
about community values through NORTEP and I grew up in that kind
of environment. In my own community where I grew up they used
to have these traditional Dene community values at one time but
now it's slowly fading away. I found the parents to be very helpful
and supportive. They were always telling me "whatever you
have to do to educate my kid, go ahead and do it." By the
community as a whole, I was accepted. I did a lot of home visits.
Whenever students were getting out of hand academically or behaviour
wise there was a lot of support.
I'd like the
community to get back to showing a lot of respect, and parents
being able to show that respect to their kids. With that kind
of an attitude presented in a household, I think kids will come
to school with that idea so I'd like to see that kind of thing
come back. You don't just say, "Okay, today we're going to
talk about respect" and leave it at that. You have to do
certain things to make them realize what you're talking about
by using different teaching strategies.
I'd like to
see respect for the elders so student can go and just sit down
and listen to stories such as oral history, without having to
memorize it or to write anything down. I'd like to see community
members that are knowledgeable about survival take children into
the bush so that maybe if they have to go back to fishing and
trapping because of the way the economy is going they could do
it. I also would like to see them be knowledgeable about technology.
If they don't want to be a trapper, okay. Studying both worlds
and making them have a look at how they can interchange it when
it's good; when it's bad and put the two close together. Another
thing that I'd like to see is for Band members to support whatever
somebody is trying to set up, whether it is a business or being
a teacher, and not calling them down.
I guess my
main accomplishment up north would be helping to start a Dene
program and trying to get the students to realize that their culture
is as important as any other culture. I stressed a lot on language.
They knew how to speak it and didn't always think they needed
to learn that kind of thing. When they thought about it they would
say yeah that's part of maintaining our own language for the long-run.
I would give them hints here and there about why it's important
and why you keep it up. I tried to treach them how to show respect
to elders and to teach them waht kind of respect to show to another
person such as sharing. I told them that it is equally as important
to do the traditional trapping and hunting because you still learn
when you're out in the bush. They are not learning in English
abut they are learning by observation and by listening and those
kind of values.
I was in a northern Cree community for two years. I was teaching
grade 7 and grade 9 in Social Studies. I brought native issues
into my classroom through Language Arts. In Social Studies I was
trying to put things into an Aboriginal perspective. I would ask
them if they want to be like me or to be like another Native teacher
that's in the classroom? I would use examples like what do you
eat at home? How does your grandmother prepare hides? Have you
ever seen them? What's the procedure there? Then I tell them this
is the way I remember my mother preparing them and ask them if
there is any difference. Sometimes they'll ask me about religion.
I talk to them about the way I grew up and why you had to haul
water and chop holes in the lake when it's 40 below. I tell them
that I used to do that. Some of them will ask me how to say this
in Dene. I tell them the way.
to curriculum was not to only follow what was laid out in the
curriculum. I followed it, but the resources I more or less ignored.
I figured out where I could find something that was maybe a little
bit better than what was in the curriculum. That was hared to
do because there was hardly any kind of resources that were available.
I was looking for stuff that would be more meaningful. If you
want to get them read, do you get them read, do you get them to
read Tom Sawyer or do you get them to read something they can
relate to like something about Native people in another part of
Canada? After they ahd read that, we looked for what was different
and what was the same. The couple of years I was there I had a
pretty rough class, but there was a lot of one-on-one, and sometimes
there was a lot of just stopping things and telling them we've
got to talk about this whether you like it or not.
In my current
job as a Dene materials developer, I see myself as a person that's
trying to maintain a language through media. How can I make it
interesting to those students that can't speak the language. I'm
worried about the language because I know that back home a lot
of the younger people are not speaking the language. They're not
interested in picking up the language. Maybe it is because some
of their parents don't speak it at home. Everything that they
watch is coming from the States so you have to compete with those
kinds of things. My generation can still speak it but after that
I think it more or less stops. I think that pretty soon there's
not going to be too many Dene communities that are able to speak
their own language in Saskatchewan. Parents say they're concerned,
but at the same time, some of them don't make an effort to speak.
Dene to their own kids at home, and they want the school to do
it for them. It isn't all the schools responsibility. Parents
have to take an equal share if they want it to survive.
A lot of the
older generation don't speak Dene to their kids. So the attitude
that some students had was Amy parents don't talk in Dene, so
why do I have to learn it?@ I found that to be visible mostly
on the west side in places like Patuanak, Dillon and Turnor. La
Loche is still fluent. When you walk downtown and people are speaking
Dene and the whole community is speaking it, then everybody speaks
it. If you go to a place like Dillon or Patuanak and say something
to somebody in Dene they don't speak to you in Dene.
I am able to make an impact by producing materials that other
people can use. There are a lot of different ways to say certain
things in the Dene language for certain situations. I think the
northern school system is moving in the right direction. They're
doing things that are helping to maintain the language aspect
of it such as publishing and producing materials. We are able
to produce things that other people can use. But producing materials
is just a beginning. It's better than just going into the classroom
and not having anything. I guess what I would like to see is students
starting to write their own little stories and getting them published.
That way, they are the ones that are producing that material and
then they are looking at their own work. I hope eventually that
You have to
define what is native culture nowadays? Is culture just sending
them out into the bush and learning how to set traps, how to set
snares, how to cut fish, how to prepare hides? Is that culture?
Is that what the students want? Or can we rpesent culture in a
classroom setting that is kind of a model for the community as
a whole? It can be religion, it can be language, how you treat
people, how you interact with people. Do you go and visit the
elders and listen to stories, or do they have to come to the classroom?
When you talk about culture, it's a big area and I don't think
you're able to teach a culture, per se, in a classroom setting.
You've got to be able to live it; and if you're jsut sitting there
in a classroom and just listen and get out of your culture, and
not live it, what's the sense of it? Is it going to be straight
language or do we take 15 or 20 kids and let them stay in the
bush for a whole year with a teacher? So I guess Native teachers
and leaders that are interested in education need to define what
they want. It's a tough question because I've known the word culture
to be bantered around ever since I started NORTEP. The parents
say let's teach culture in a clasroom buty they don't come out
and say what they mean by culture. What is it exactly that you
want to be taught in the classroom? I think it's everybody's job
to define this. Is it going to include computers, ski-doos, putting
fish up in your trap line and watching TV? Some of it is bad and
some of it is good.
You need to
have a purpose for the cultural camp idea. If you take them all
out for a year then that's what I would call a culture type experience.
Not just one week out in the bush and just feed them peanuts.
I think culture is more than that. Culture is being able to speak,
being able to fish, trap, learn how to survive, learn how to talk
to your elders for advice when you're out there and being able
to be in harmony with nature. Culture is being away from your
main community and getting away from the radios and the TV's.
I would say
it is important to make teachers more aware. If they're going
to be teaching in a Native community, then you should be aware
where you're going. You should have a sense of how the people
live, what their likes and dislikes are, what they do for fun
and start from there. You can do a lot of your own locally, developed
materials stuff. You always have to make some sort of relationship
where you come from to the other people that are outside of you.
Teachers have to be able to be open-minded and able to teach about
our Native Studies. I had to be open-minded if I wanted to survive
in both worlds. I took the good parts and the bad parts and I
put into one big pile and mixed them up. If you're not open-minded
and you just have tunnel vision then you're not looking at what's
happening on both sides.
influenced Ray in his current view of education? How does his
cultural background make his educational priorities different
than yours? What does this mean for your work?
- What are
some of the forces that Ray has had to resist in order to maintain
his language and culture? Do these forces exist in any way in
schools you are familiar with? If so, what might you do to transform
- What is Ray's
view of the role of Aboriginal language in the academic and cultural
development of students? What might this mean for future educational
development in your educational context?
- What is Ray's
view of what curriculum for Aboriginal people should be? How does
his view of curriculum differ from yours? What could this mean
for your practice?
- What values
drive Ray's beliefs? How do they compare to your own values? What
can you learn from his value system that will help you in your
Perspective on Curriculum: Giving Back
is a Cree educator who grew up with his grandparents, spending
a lot of time on the trap line as well as on his home reserve
in northern Saskatchewan. He spent several years as a classroom
teacher before he assumed an administrative position in education
for his Band Council. He is working towards a masters degree in
My view of
knowledge, which involves a cyclical way of living, was taught
to me by my grandfather. Aboriginals call this the circle of life.
Even today, I considtnetly work at making sense of my life experiences
through my daily interaction with the environment on the Churchill
is an extension of ancestral teachings that culminated in a formal
education. When I refer to Aboriginal knowledge , I am really
telling you what I know as a Native person, from my experiences
in an Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal knowledge is complex and
defined through First Nations languages, but I will attempt to
translate from Cree to English, to say what I consider to be an
Aboriginal world view. From this Aboriginal language perspective,
I will present my philosophical argument concerning the need to
include Native epistemology in curriculum.
It was through
my grandfather that my Aboriginal knowledge began, when I was
about three years old. It was neither formal nor organized. Grandparents,
in our culture, are held in high esteem, they are the elders,
and to be taught by an elder is recognized as a valuable education.
I was fortunate to be raised by my grandparents into my teen years.
Grandfather was a trapper. Now, trapping usually involves several
families working together on a line. If trapping was poor in one
area, my grandfather would say, AYour trap line does not have
enough; come to mine.@ I became aware that we didn't necessarily
go to trap as many animals as we could to make a profit, rather
it was a lifestyle. My grandfather worked on the trap line because
he wanted to be out there, living off the land, learning about
and respecting all life that sustained our lives. Our walks often
took us out to the river and I watched as my grandfather picked
medicinal herbs, for he would alsyas put something back in their
place; I learned to be connected to the land.
Cree language he was teaching me Aboriginal knowledge, our cultural
values and how to live within the circle of life. He helped me
to retain much of this through story telling, collecting herbs,
surviving on the land, and sharing his spiritual beliefs. I think
he wanted me to keep this knowledge so that, at some point in
my life, I would be able to find my purpose. I think I am at that
point now because those stories and legends that were told to
me are all coming back. I did not lose them. I did not forget
them, and I am now beginning to connect with this Aboriginal knowledge.
One can learn
how to live and think in a cyclical way through understanding
the circle of life. Unlike Western society which tends to compartmentalize
and separate aspects of the natural world into isolated entities,
the Aboriginal views the natural world as holistic. Thus nature
is examined as the interdependency of all life, from the smallest
form to the largest, each connected to the other. This connectedness
revolves in a cyclical process of constant change. Change is inevitable
and is part of the mysterious plan that we can only define as
the natural process, or the circle of life, in which everything
that is natural has some degree of life. Balanced living is a
result of devoting one's energy and of placing equal value on
emotion, mind, body and spirit. This entails living within the
laws of nature, not distrubing the circle of life to the point
that it changes to a linear path which, it is believed, leads
Also, a part
of Aboriginal knowledge is the practical knowledge of survival
which is a way of knowing and understanding the physical world.
Survival embraces the cyclical knowledge that one's actions move
outwardly to affect many other things, for all is interconnected.
Aboriginal thought produces a life that accepts daily occurrences
in a spirit of humility and, on the other hand, that strives to
maintain a personal balance and harmony with the environment.
This is what
I want to pass on to students. They need to be connected to this
Aboriginal knowledge. I think Aboriginals should have the opportunity
to decide and choose what they believe to be important and worth
knowing, a nondestructive knowledge that will enable life to continue
on this earth. I want to give students their Cree language. I
can best express my beliefs and my understandings of the world
through the Cree language. I have difficulty doing it in English
and, although I attempt it, it does not come out exactly the way
I want. I think that to recover the language is to recover our
culture. I do not believe, as some, that we would recover our
culture by reviving different cultural rituals and customs - pan-Indianism
can be destructive.
It is important
that students know their history. Native people must develop their
education system so that it includes Aboriginal history before
the year of 1492, for in the process ofbeing educated in a white
society, we were also in the process of being colonized. As teachers,
we have learned many things about our culture, things that we
were previously unaware of because of the institutions that we
have attended. As Aboriginal teachers we have a responsibility
to make sense of our traditions and allow students to experience
their Native culture. In understanding the way we were and are
being oppressed and marginalized, I now see that my role as a
teacher is to emancipate students through Aboriginal knowledge
and world view. This is a process of empowering students to understand
their lives so they can change their situation. We cannot dictate
to them that they must be a certain way, but we can give them
the opportunity to see things from an Aboriginal perspective.
When I was
in school I struggled to comprehend a language and a knowledge
that, more often, disagreed with my heart, for the knowledge of
the world I knew was explained and experienced from a Native world
view. I was self-conscious about my poor use of the English language
and without the confidence to speak in a second language, I remained
silent or did other things to distract the teacher to avoid speaking
English. I felt inferior.
background was that of an Aboriginal child growing up in a small
community, I understand my students. Some people might not agree,
but I think it is a wonderful opportunity for a teacher to know
the context of their students' lives because this knowledge enables
the curriculum designers to create suitable programs. I do not
have to ask the child what is the situation at home. I know it
quite well, being familiar with most of the students' Cree culture,
language, extended and immediate families and their situation
outside of the school, in my community.
I sense a
generalized fear in the community that their youth show disrespect
for their natural environment and have little understanding of
their relationship within it. Aboriginal knowledge would enable
students to see their environment not only as a resource and their
livelihood, but also as their mother and they would be less likely
to exploit nature destructively for economic purposes. It would
teach the young of balanced living within the circle of life.
reasons, I believe Aboriginals should have input in developing
their perspective of curriculum in all subject areas and I feel
most strongly so, in the area of Aboriginal languages. My vision,
while I am in this position, is to see that the Cree language
is used as the language of instruction in nursery, kindergarten
and, perhaps, Grade 1. This, however, would depend on each community.
Cree immersion may be appropriate in a community shere many of
the students are not able to speak their own language, whereas,
in other communities, a bilingual Cree immersion program might
be more appropriate for those students who have retained their
first language and are able to use it.
we are drafting a proposal for a bilingual immersion program for
our Band school and I am now in a position to be able to propose
that first language be used in at least the first three years
of education. I don't have much power but I can work, using research
that supports the need to retain the Cree language, to convince
the ones in power. In addition, we are providing experiences so
that students can develop a relationship with anture through our
cultural program. This program will go beyond just learning about
our cultural values and the past. There are many activities that
we do today which can teach respect for the circle of life, such
as survival (hunting), fishing, kayaking, canoeing, running dogs,
and snowshoeing. We cannot stop change. Our knowledge must adapt
and grow, but our values will always remain because they hold
all life as sacred.
values and wisdom are embodied in our elders who are rapidly becoming
a diminishing resource and we must learn from them and give it
to our students. Many children are not fortunate to have elders
that they can go to and it is here that I believe our Aboriginal
teachers could play an important role. Teachers, as community
members, have access to the elders and knowledge of how to approach
them. The traditional knowledge of elders, learned by our teachers
could, in turn, be passed on to students in organized situations
where the students could be taught such values as respect and
sharing, in the Aboriginal way.
Aboriginal teachers have to be equipped with a knowledge of curriculum
that enables them to be more than just Atransmitters.@ When I
was first teaching, I thought that what was written in curriculum
guides was the ultimate truth and there was no other way. I did
not always agree with the curriculum, but I still taught from
it because the children had to write Adepartmentals.@ The curriculum
was inaccurate, some of it did not make sense, and some of it
just did not apply to the students in the region. Yet, I really
did not know what to do. At that point, I did not understand.
Understanding came when I entered graduate school. It was there
that I learned to reflect on what curriculum means, to critique
curriculum guides and the values within. Now I know more about
what goes into developing a curriculum, where it has come from,
and can distinguish between one that is good and one that is not.
The lack of
training for Aboriginal teachers is one of the greatest barriers
to bicultural and bilingual programming. Without training, Aboriginal
teachers are reluctant to move into teaching in their Native language.
As well, the curriculum in English. It is easier to follow the
English curriculum and occasionally use Cree to help those who
have difficulty understanding English. Another barrier relates
to leadership. Many people are not convinced that bringing back
the language is useful. They may feel that their language and
culture is inferior and that learning English is the only way
their children will succeed in the world. Leadership is needed
to help people in the communities become involved in preserving
in preserving our language began in my community when the Band
took control of the education system. They decided to integrate
Native language and culture into the school and they modified
areas of the core curriculum to meet the needs of Aboriginal children.
At that time, the school had been using educational material,
mostly from the provincial system, following the provincial curriculum
and, initially, it was within this framework that integration
evolved. The Curriculum Resource Unit is developing a document
for language and culture, at this time it is more of a framework,
but it is evolving. There is much inconsistency in the instruction
of core subjects from the provincial curriculum because of the
lack of in-service for teachers within the Band system. However,
teachers at the elementary and middle years levels, through use
of the adaptive dimension, have been able to be creative with
curriculum is evolving through the efforts of dedicated leaders
in education. Leadership entails many abilities, skills, and qualities
that influence others to ensure that plans succeed and that work
gets done. Such leaders are informed of current developments in
other communities; personally, I have found networking with other
First Nations curriculum developers to be an excellent means of
staying in touch. In addition, a leader should know what the parents,
the students, the teachers, and other players think, feel, believe,
and do. Most importantly, leadersip comes from within, not in
a spirit of self-achievement, but one of responsibility to help
solve problems and when recognition comes it is given to the community.
Leadership takes teamwork.
up to me as a leader in the community and have high expectations
for me to make changes and do things out of the ordinary. They
do not ell me that I should do things in a certain way, nor do
they put me down, but I believe the expect a little more out of
me, feeling that my position enables me to do more. I view my
commitment to the community through an aspect within the circle
of living that I learned from my grandparents. It concerns giving
back to the circle of my environment for all that I have taken
in from the beauty of the North and its peoples.
is Aboriginal knowledge according to Matthias? How is it different
from non-Aboriginal knowledge? What are the implications for classrooms
with Aboriginal children?
- How can teachers
affirm Aboriginal knowledge in the classroom?
sees himself as a bridge between the knowledge of the elders and
the needs of the children? Is there a similar role for non-Aboriginal
- Do we do
enough in schools to connect children with the "land"?
the Elders' Voice into the Classroom
Cree person, spent her early school years in an Anglican residential
school but returned to her home reserve each summer. After spending
a number of years as a kindergarten teacher, Rose became involved
as a Cree language materials developer in her school division.
I was really
exceptionally close to my grandmother so I spent a lot of time
with her. She taught me a lot of things, although she never really
said, "you have to learn this." I learned just by being
around her. I would watch her do things. We'd go into the bush
and she didn't really tell me things, I had to be there at the
right time in order for her to tell me. I learned a lot from the
elders. My grandmother had two buddies that she used to walk around
and do stuff with in the bush. Even though I was a little girl
they accpeted me. They told me things that often had something
to do with the spiritual things or they would tell me something
like, "this plant is good for this and this plant is good
for that." My grandparents talked to me about giving things
back to the earth and giving gifts. You don't talke all the berries,
you leave some berries. You have to leave something. If you take
all of it you can never put it back. If you take all of it and
then try and put something back, it wouldn't be the same. Those
are the kind of things I had stuck in my mind because I wanted
to learn. Anyway, these are the things that I tell my children
The gift of
giving is one thing that the elders taught me, and in today's
society if you give, it's not accepted. I like giving stuff to
people even though I'm not expecting anything in return. If they'd
done something special for me, I'd like to give them something
in return. You can't take everything from this Earth, you have
to give something back. I'm talking of giving of my knowledge
because when I was young, it was given to me and I can't keep
it because it was given to me; I have to pass it on. That's one
of the values that I learned. Whatever the Creator put on Earth
was not for you to take and keep, you have to pass it on at some
I was educated
in a residential school in P.A. The reason we got sent to the
residential school is because there was no school in our community
for the longest time. It was run by Anglicans and they were quite
accepting of the Cree way of life because although we weren't
allowed to speak Cree in the classroom, we could speak Cree in
the dorm. I don't remember an instance where somebody told me
not to speak Cree in the dormitory or in the playground. The values
we learned were Christian values but they're almost the same as
the values that Natives have. I think that the residential school
helped me to get where I am. They were very strict about being
time-oriented; whereas in my culture, they're not really that
strict. That's one value that I've really grasped and it's really
The only time
I got home from residential school was in the summer, so when
I got home I spent as much time as possible with the people that
were older than me. They showed me or told me things and those
are some of the values I still cling to. I'm not saying that I've
forgotten the other values I learned from the residential school.
When I went
home in the summer time I had to speak Cree because both of my
parents didn't speak English. Two of my older sisters don't speak
English because they never went to school. I've always had a closeness
with older people and have visited them. I know when to speak
and when not to. I think they know too, that I have a natural
curiosity to know things.
lonely people because hardly anybody goes to visit them. They
just stay at the house and once in a while they have a visit.
I like to visit if I know there is an elder living there or I
go and visit a friend of mine if an elder is planning to come
and visit. I have to phone these elders sometimes because I need
help. The elders tell me, "well phone me; if you need help
all you have to do is phone me and I'll help you." They really
appreciate it when I buy them a pair of heavy socks and I give
them a package of cigarettes. It doesn't have to be very expensive.
I don't know why but the elders like the way I speak Cree. They
say I sound nice when I speak Cree. They say, "you still
have the perfect Cree." I see myself as a voice in the classroom
for elders. As a teacher I am speaking both for elders and for
education. I don't want the language to be lost because it is
a beautiful language. The Cree language creates a very direct
relationship with students.
me how to survive in the educational system the way a non-Aboriginal
sees it. This the way you do things. This is the way you're supposed
to do things. This is they way you do your unit plans. There is
that aspect of time again. You have to have your assignments handed
in on time. You have to be able to share and I got that from both
worlds. To be good to you fellow human being is anothervalue that
helped me that I was taught at the residential school and also
at home. You learn to balance the two things. I think once a person
sees that this Christian value is the same as the Aboriginal one,
they have one value. So you just put it into one container.
have offered more classes in ESL, teaching English as a second
language, because if I knew how to teach English as a second language,
I'd be able to teach Cree as a second language and I wouldn't
have that much trouble with trying to write down lessons. I was
never taught how to speak English as a second language. I was
taught how to read English and how to speak English through Dick
and Jane but how many times do I say, Aoh Sally.@ They should
offer a class there on how to teach Cree. I would like to be a
student. I can teach how to speak Cree at the university level
but I'd like to know how to teach it to kids.
kids didn't speak English but I knew what they were thinking or
what they were saying. Some of the elders had children going to
school who were under their care. Most of them were grandparents,
and they'd come to the school in the fall and tell the principal
they were taking the child out to the trap line and would like
to be able to bring some work with them.
I passed the
elders knowledge on to the student population. I would just help
the children through the Cree language program. It wasn't to teach
the language because they already ahd a stable hold on the language.
It was to revive and maintain the language so that it didn't die.
When we came across vocabulary that the children didn't understand,
I would tell them, "this is the way the grandfathers and
the grandmothers spoke; this is the yway they spoke of things;
this is the way they did things." I am also keeping alive
the values that are dying with the elders. The foremost value
I always bring across to the children that the elders had passed
on ws the concept of respect. Respect for people, respect for
the environment, respect for yourself and respect for your fellow
students. When you're learning the Cree language, you can't help
but touch on some of the values. It is an enrichment of language
because the younger generation don't really use all the words
that were used long ago. They attempt to slack on an English word.
You have a
better understanding about your culture when you know the language
because with the everyday things you do, you have to sue that
Cree language to explain things to children. You have to use Cree
because the people over there are still closely tied with the
environment. The language has a lot to do with anture and respect
for nature. For example, the description of the seasons is connected
with nature. Culture revolves around the seasons. Therefore, you
have to show a respect for the environment and if they lose that
they're lost. It is different to be able to talk about the environment
in Cree rather than in English.
the values and the language together it's certainly going to help
them be proud of their "Cree-ness" and their "Indian-ness".
It's going to help them because they're going to have a very good
self-conept which will help them in the long run because if they
ahve a good self-concept they're going to be able to do things
that they thought they otherwise wouldn't be able to do.
I used story-telling
in my teaching when I was teaching Cree for the Grades 7, 8, and
9 just to get them rolling so that they could tell their story
too. There are lots of values and stuff in those stories. We have
to give children more leeway. We can't just stuff them with things
all the time. We have to give them a chance to grow themselves.
children have to learn things about not rushing and being curious,
but in a respectful way because that's what is expected of a child
growing up in a Native environment. You're not expected to ask
questions all the time, yet in school this is what we expect the
children to do. If they don't ask questions we think as teachers
that they don't want to learn anything, but it's just that their
culture is that way. You have to understand the children in order
to be able to bring that into focus. I think nowadays, educators
think that the child understands it if they start to ask questions,
but in order for a child to understand, they have to be motivated
to want to learn a certain concept. They know the concept already
but you want them to prove to you that they understand by performing
a task that shows you.
When I was
teaching on my home reserve there was an expectation from the
community on me. It did make me feel good to be teaching back
in my home community because I was showing a kind of leadership
that had never happened before in the community. A lot of the
young people looked up to me. But in a way it didn't really make
me feel good because I think a lot of the people would be too
dependent on that, saying, "I don't have to do it; there's
somebody else doing it already." It was a lot of pressure.
The kids listened
to me about the importance of getting an education because I'm
one of them and they know that I've never turned by back on them.
If they needed to talk I was always there to talk to them and
they could speak to me in the language they knew. They were more
willing to talk to me and to listen to me because I was living
proof that I had gone through an education system and then I had
gone back to school. They knew I hadn't completed my Grade 12,
but I had completed my Grade 10 and they knew that. When I reached
the point in my life when people from the community came to me
to fill out forms for them and to do things for them that required
a person to be able to think in English and to write in English
and to be able to interpret what the questions were, I think that's
when the kids saw me as a role model. "When I'm big I want
to be able to do that; I want to be able to help people."
My kids asked me, "how come you never charge these people
who come to you, and you do it for free for mom?' and I said,
Awell, there are a lot of things on Earth that I get for free
which I'm not expected to pay back."
more open to me. If their children were having problems in the
school, they'd come to me and I'd talk to them about it. I had
to somehow get trhough to them that they ahd to talk to the principal
as well. People would come to me before the principal but I couldn't
just ignore the principal. A lot of things that they wouldn't
talk to the principal about they felt more free to talk to me
about because I spoke and understood their language. The hardest
thing for me was during reporting periods because I'd have to
be around and make sure that I was there for the people who were
sometimes overlooked by the other teaching staff because they
wouldn't be able to communicate with them. If you're a Cree speaker,
you can't always put your words so that the English people can
understand you, especially for people that haven't been in school
for quite awhile who have a minimum knowledge of English.
The kids used
to ask me how many years I had to go to school to study Cree.
Now those kids are parents. They're at home and when I go home
this christmas there will be a lot of them dropping in at my son's
house just to come and see how I'm doing. They'll be counting
my grey hair and my wrinkles and all that. I'm still quite close
I have written
four books in Cree for the teachers and students which have been
distributed to provincial and band schools. They are mostly directed
to interviewing elders and getting that down on tape. The parents
know what I'm doing. I've shown some of the materials to them
and they say that it is neat. By doing these materials children
are going to see Cree written down. It's going to have an impact
on them and I hope it will motivate them to try to read in Cree.
division could allow the Cree language program more time instead
of just 15 minutes a day. They could give them 40 minutes a day
or an hour. In some schools the teacher only gets to see one particular
classroom twice a week and 15 minute time allotments, and that's
nothing. They have to start treating it as a subject and give
it the same time they give English language arts. I think my school
division has really gone beyond what they should be doing because
I don't think any other school division has got the material developers
working in the office and developing stuff for children out in
the field. They have an understanding that this is what we need.
learned about "giving back" from her grandparents. How
is she "giving back" in her current role as an educator?
Does this concept have merit in your education situation?
- What values
did Rose learn from elders and from residential school? How is
she living those values in her practice?
- Rose talks
about culturally appropriate ways of being with students. What
are some of these ways? What might this mean for other contexts
where First Nations students are learning?
- Rose played
a significant role with parents. How do her ways of relating to
Aboriginal parents compare to your work with parents? What implications
might her role have for your relationships with First Nations
- What are
Rose's views on Cree programming? What implications does her vision
have for Aboriginal language programming in other contexts, and
for curriculum policy?
Languages Consultant's Story: Recovering the Past
Metis and taught elementary school for a number of years before
she became a Cree curriculum developer. She is just completing
her Masters degree with a focus on Aboriginal language education.
weren't Treaty Indians so we lived in town. I attended the provincial
school for the first four grades. Because I was a "trap line
kid" we would go up to our trap line on the Churchill River
with all our books and my mother became my teacher and my father
became the principal. My father only had about three months of
formal schooling but to me he was the smartest guy in the world.
He could fix anything and he could make anything. He could take
his boat motors apart and put them all back together. He was a
real good carpenter and he'd make toys, sleights, and furniture
out of blocks of wood. My dad was also a very good hunter. He
managed to raise us all; he was a good provider.
We had a dog
team with about six sled dogs. My dad made everything suchas tents,
the sleigh, and the traditional toboggans with the canvas perfectly
laced up. Our cabin was a log cabin which was handmade as well
as little log cabins for each one of the dogs. He put up hay in
the fall for the dogs and I thought he treated the animals well.
Whey were the huskiest dogs you ever saw. Through the trap line
experience we learned to really care for the animals. My dad was
a real conservationist so when we went camping we always were
taught to leave our campgrounds clean. We learned to respect the
My dad always
talked Cree to me; now I talk Cree to him too. I think that's
so neat. He encouraged us to go to school although he was not
literate himself. He always had that really good feeling about
himself that he knew he was educated too.
We had a family
of ten - seven older than me and then two younger ones, so the
ones that went to the trap line with me were the two younger ones.
I can remember that it took blocks of time away from my school.
In Grade 4 I started boarding out and stayed in town when my parents
went out on the trap line. It was difficult for me to stay in
town. When I had to start boarding, I'd just cry because I knew
my parents were leaving the next day. I found it very lonely and
frustrating to stay behind and board out starting from grade 4.
I wanted to go with them, or when older, I wanted them to stay
because I was getting used to town life.
This was a
time of incredible change, since for the first time children had
to go to school. That changed the lifestyle of the parents, and
that's where the problems started for many trappers. Many of them
would have to come in off the trap line to get their second fish
payments. Since the second payments came here in january, they
couldn't stay out there until spring because they had to wait
for that money to purchase their supplies. Longer periods of time
had to be spent here because of these changes. There was not much
for them to do in town.
As a Metis,
it seemed I wasn't accepted by the treaty people or accepted by
the white people. I was an Indian to the whites, and a white man
to the Indians so I was sort of half way between. For a period
of my life I wanted to be an Indian, because I remember some of
my cousins were from the reserve here, and some of my cousins
were from town. Those two worlds for sure impacted my life.
I have always
been interested in knowledge but attaining an education has been
a determined, sometimes difficult journey. I began my primary
learning in a larger northern community with some understanding
of the grammatical structures of my first language, Cree. Of course
in those days, there were neither English as a Second Language
(ESL) classes nor Aboriginal teachers - no one understood how
having a first language can influence the learning of a second
language. All instruction was in English. I experienced such difficulty
in learning English that I had to repeat the first grade. Even
today, I continue to have difficulty with English but have overcome
much because of my education and especially because of my training
at NORTEP where I did receive instruction in ESL.
education had rough beginnings, perhaps I leanred at an early
age that I needed to work harder than most children. I struggled
on through my high school years to achieve a formal Grade 11 standing
and, at the ceremonies, I was to receive an academic award! It
was then that I knew I was capable of learning and, with continued
effort, I could succeed.
I left my
home to attend a Business College and for the next eight years
I woked in the secretarial field and even here, through using
English in a practical way and growing in organizational skills,
my education continued. However, it became quite routine and a
longing for studying and academics set in. I applied at NORTEP
and was accepted, graduating in 1984.
It was NORTEP
that helped me sort out who I am. Before that time I didn't have
a strong sense of pride in my background because of different
things that had happened in my life and racism that I had experienced
- a denial of my Aboriginal roots. I can recall some of the really
neat things that I went through there, especially the Native Studies
classes. That's where a really big change started to happen. I
think of my NORTEP experience as giving back to me a pride in
our language and our culture; building up my self-esteem. It has
helped me a lot to really feel okay about who I am that I am a
special person. It's helped to bring out some of the gifts that
are inside me.
I to know that my learning was to continue. I was interviewed
over the telephone for a teaching position in a remote northern
town. The town was a Metis community that had many social and
economic problems. My cottage-like teacherage was actually a dilapidated
building that appeared to have been vacant for a long time. I
couldn't guess when it had last been touched by a paint brush
or caring hands. The outside of the building was unfinished with
an extension that may have been a dream of someone long before,
but now its walls stood bare, as an unfinished chapter in a book.
I guess the townsfolk believed that my children and I could adjust
well to this as we, too, were Metis. In retrospect, I believe
what I was going through was culture shock. This town was not
the town I had grown up in and it appeared to have different values
than the ones I grew up with. I didn't las for the year; actually
I became quite ill.
My next position
was ata reserve school in the south. These were two really good
years. I learned what a difference a good principal can make.
I remember her great attitude and the positive atmosphere of the
school. All of the staff were involved. Following this experience,
I decided to finish my degree so I went to university down south.
I particularly loved learning and, equally important to me, studying
at home and spending precious time with my children. I was to
attend university for one more year, completing a postgraduate
diploma in education.
My next three
years were to be spent in a city school. Here, again, I worked
with another terrific principal in the first year and the staff
and administration worked together as a cohesive group. Also,
the school board employed an excellent language arts consultant
who took every opportunity to try new ideas in the classrooms.
The school took a very positive approach with the students. During
that time, I worked on the whole language strategy. I used the
student's experiences to help them learn. Their stories became
an important part of the classroom.
At this time,
in addition to teaching, I was also a member of an Indian and
Metis committee which was headed by a consultant from our board
office. There were meetings and training sessions with Indian
and Metis representatives from all the schools in the public school
system. Following the sessions, we returned to our schools to
share all that was learned. A major focus of the meetings at that
time was integrating Indian and Metis content into the provincial
curriculum. I don't know what happens to others, but when you're
in a school like that you're kind of thought of as an expert on
Aboriginal issues. I was always asked what I thought about Aboriginal
aspects of the curriculum, whether I knew the answer or not, but
it didn't bother me. I'm not really an expert but I tried to accommodate
this view the best I could.
stressful at this stage in my life. I was spending long hours
at the school, many times until 10:00 at night. At this time my
daughters were in their teen years and I just wasn't spending
enough time with them. So, I made the decision to leave teaching
and was accepted on with a Tribal Council, in the Education Department.
Here, for a year, I worked as an assistant office manager and
striving on, applied for a better position as a Cree Materials
Developer, for which I was accepted. I then applied for my current
position of Aboriginal Languages Consultant and was again accepted!
I love this position. Working with the Cree and Dene languages
is a very rewarding and fulfilling career.
But my story
is still not told in its entirety. Since completing my postgraduate
diploma in 1989, I have been working on my masters degree in education.
Last winter I completed the final class needed to fulfill the
credit requirements to graduate. So, I am in the final stages
of my project, with convocation rapidly approaching. Along with
a literature review, I'm surveying five Aboriginal language programs
across Canada, and the teaching methodologies being used in those
programs. I intend to do a comparative analysis of them and prepare
some recommendations for teaching the Aboriginal language. My
academic achievements go hand in hand with the job I now have.
I am, today, full of ideas, which I have drawn from my education
and my experience, to assist teachers in planning and implementing
Aboriginal language programs in schools.
to Archdeacon McKay who wrote a Cree dictionary for the north
at the turn of the century. This kind of brings it full-circle
because here I am working on the Cree language. He did a lot of
work in the Cree language and he also did some hymn books and
some prayer books. I really think that the language can be revived.
I don't think it has to be lost. There is really something about
empowering the children through teaching them the language. If
they know their language and they can feel good about their language,
maybe it will give them something back to empower them to do other
things. I think the high suicide, crime, abuse and drop out rates
are linked to a loss of identity.
has Wanda's biography influenced her teaching?
- How has your
biography influenced your teaching?
- Wanda experienced
the pressure of being an expert on Aboriginal issues in her school.
Consider situations you are aware of in which Aboriginal people
are expected to be knowledgeable about Aboriginal culture? How
can non-Aboriginal teachers come to understand Aboriginal knowledge
and skills without putting unrealistic demands upon Aboriginal
- Wanda suggests
that the loss of Aboriginal language is at the root of a loss
of identity. How can Aboriginal languages by recovered?
the Classroom a Place for Cree Culture
been a Cree language teacher for several years in a provincial
school that has a substantial non-Aboriginal population. She grew
up on a reserve in northern Saskatchewan
When I am
teaching, I return to some of the lessons I was taught by my grandparents,
especially the lessons in patience. I moved in with my parents
at the age of 12 but, until that ime, I lived with my grandparents.
I can remember going snaring with my grandmother and checking
traps with my grandfather. When I was out on the lake, I learned
the same things that I learned from working on the trap line;
to respect the land and be patient, because they were very patient.
To keep us in line, we were told stories and legends. We grew
up in a loving and caring environment and yet, because they were
religious people, it was strict. I learned about family closeness
and what it means to be secure and to take on responsibility and
to not complain. During holidays, when I ws of school age, my
grandparents took me traplining and, afterwards, we'd return to
the community because I had to go to school. It was important
to them that I be in school. From the way they raised and treated
me and from their teachings, I knew that I was loved. Their teachings
have helped me to show respect to the students and to teach with
more patience. One needs to be a patient person to be able to
meet the learning needs of the students.
I never spoke
any English at all when I entered school but, from Kindergarten
to Grade 6, I was immersed in English. The things I remember most
from my schooling were those times when I was outside on field
trips and, or course, my Cree teachers. I remember a lot of activities
that we did in Cree. I guess that I remember them the most because
I could relate to them and, even today, I relate a lot of the
ways I do things to the ways that Cree was taught to me in school.
I try to adapt some of these ways, trying not to do some of those
things that frustrated me. I'll always remember my Cree-speaking
teacher from Grade 3 who took us on a school trip to another northern
community by plan - my first plane ride in a Twin Otter! I don't
remember a lot of the English lessons, except for my Grade 5 English
teacher who talked about the Second World War. Once, when we were
watching films on World War II, he slapped his hands on my desk
and I jumped right up. I've always wondered why he showed us those
films. That's the most vivid memory of my elementary years with
an English teacher; however, most of my teachers were very nice.
me a lot of strategies about how to teach and how to know who
I really am. I matured, I guess, because I think differently than
I used to. I'm more knowledgeable about worldly things, about
education and how chioldren learn, and about how personalities
are moulded. NORTEP taught me to reflect on my upbringing and
to realize all the positive things that I had taken for granted
- things I had never really thought about. Always, and in every
class, there was an instructor who talked about these things.
Here, I learned to truly appreciate how I was raised by my grandparents
and my parents. The instructors were all different and shared
different knowledge with us. So I guess you could say that, for
having been in NORTEP, I reflect not only education and teaching
but also life itself.
All I thought
about the summer after I graduated was teaching. I tried to prepare
myself but I have come to know that no matter how prepared you
think you are, you never are. When I started teaching, I came
to the school early because I was anxious and scared at the same
time. I wanted to get my year plan done because I had no idea
of the school's expectations. I'd seen several year plans but
they were all different. Some of them were very detailed and others
were just an outline. Every Cree teacher used samples of each
other's year plan to make their own. I tried to change a lot of
things because kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 were all being
taught the same thing and I didn't want to do that. I did a lot
of activities that I've since changed, and I learned a lot just
from experimenting with different teaching methods. The way I
started was to do a lot of oral exercises for the first half hour
and for the next half hour I'd get the students to do a follow-up
activity. I used the NORTEP lesson plan format to do my Cree lessons
and it worked out fairly well.
I used the
whole-language approach and got them to come up with the words
which translated into Cree. I had them do little projects such
as posters or drawing northern pictures, and then I got them to
translate it into Cree. I wanted them to finish their pojects
right away, but it couldn't be done because they were too long
and I only got to see them once every six days, so that didn't
help. They enjoyed the project because they did a lot of visiting
with their friends, and I got to work with them one-on-one on
the language teaching and how to say the things that they drew
in Cree. Very few were fluent in Cree. Whatever they did, they
ahd to write the English workd with the Cree workd because the
majority of them are non-Cree speakers. That's what I did with
the Grade 5's and 6's, however, I think I did more with the elementary
grades as far as teaching them different verbs and nouns and more
oral exercises. I found that the children in Kindergarten learned
more Cree from last year than the older grades did, so I'm trying
to change my approach with them.
When I teach
the Cree language, we talk about meanings because our words are
not a direct translation from an English word. In our culture,
the names of the months of the year are derived from their meaning,
for example, December's name is Frost Moon. The reason for this
is because there is a lot of frost over the trees and plants and
everything. The same applies to the Egg Laying Moon; it is to
let the people know that eggs are eing laid by the birds so they
can go and collect them for food.
thing I did, when I first started here, was to take the students
out looking for berries and collecting leaves for a fall activity.
This year I took them on a scavenger hunt where they looked for
objects such as trees, leaves, and so on. First, they had to speak
the object's name in Cree, then write it down. They had a good
time on this outing and did finish the project because there weren't
too many words that they needed to write down.
I really enjoy
getting to know the students and working with them, especially
when they're enthusiastic and want to learn Cree. I think the
oral lessons are the ones that I enjoy the most - when I sit with
the kids in a circle and get them talking. I have fun and so do
they. I don't have any problems with discipline because they enjoy
singing and talking Cree, even though they don't always know what
they're talking about, they're using the language.
I talk a lot
about our culture and bring in resource people to extend their
understandings of the Native culture. I show them videos and get
them to work on arts and crafts. We also have a culture club going
and, here too, they learn about the Native culture. Last year
we took them to a small reserve nearby to take part in a winter
festival. The students seemed to enjoy meeting and playing with
the Native children.
I find that
the Native children who understand and are fluent in the Cree
language really shine in this class because they get to be the
ones that raise their hands and say, "I know what that means!"
I find the non-Native or non-Cree speakers, wanting to work with
the Native children, saying, "I want to work with him because
he understands Cree; he understands the teacher."
I guess as
a First Nations person working with fluent speakers in Cree, one
understands and feels quite comfortable around one another. When
they come here, I try to talk Cree to them as much as I can. I
have found that the culture club members show more respect for
the Cree language and culture when they come for Cree lessons.
They work harder and try to help out wherever they can. The majority
of them are non-Native, but they're a mixed multicultural group.
This class gives the non-Native kids a chance to get to know the
Native children and to notice that they're there. When I first
started teaching, the Native kids sat at the back of the room,
but when I started speaking Cree they were the ones that understood
and responded. The non-Native kids would look back at them and
realize that they understood. Now, the children have begun to
mix with one another and the Native kids no longer sit at the
I received a comment form a Grade 1, Cree speaking student that
illustrates the connections I am trying to make with these children.
She was touching something and I told her not to do that. I didn't
point to her or anything. I kind of took her hand and didn't make
a big show f it. She said, "You talk to me like my mom?"
I think the children who speak Cree understand me better. I speak
to them in Cree and don't have to repeat myself when I give them
directions. They catch on right away and they're very comfortable
wityh that. Most of them seem to work a little harder and we're
able to speak to one another. I guess they don't feel afraid to
ask questions or to make mistakes. I see that and sense it when
I work with them.
But it is
not always rosy. There are some students that are always in trouble
and they will come right out and say, "Well, I don't want
to be here." I get very upset. If I get one student for the
whole day sho says that, then I think about that when I go home
and say, "Well, what can I do to get the students to appreciate
being in Cree class?" It's usually just one student but it
really bothers me. I have to keep reminding myself that there
are other students that like Cree, but sometimes I get caught
up in worrying about that one student - I keep forgetting that
some of these things are not my fault.
Most of the
non-Aboriginal kids enjoy Cree class. They know the whole tape
of Cee songs that I walways play when they go and do their activities.
Then we talk about the songs and what they mean because I have
them all on chart paper. They may ask me, "Well, what does
Numuskasen mean?" and I tell them it means "my shoe."
Recently, I have started telling stories in Cree and have found
the students were familiar with many of the words - words which
they had previously learned - but, because they had never really
used them in an active way, didn't connect their meanings. I use
hand motions and facial expressions and get them to imitate me
and then they tell the story. It works because now they're going
around telling their younger brothers or sisters the story. It
works because now they're going around telling their younger brothers
or sisters the story. Then, when I taught the younger grades and
said, "Okay, I'm going to tell you a story. They'd say, AOh,
I think I know this story!" So it's working really well.
They enjoy listening to a story and I have them repeat it after
me saying, "You're telling the story to me now!" and
they get all excited.
I want them
to realize that Native people are knowledgeable: I want them to
have an appreciation for Native peoples. They need to know that
Native people named things for a good reason. Also, it is important
to talk about the way that Native people used to live because
some students think the reason that they lived the way they did
was because they were poor and didn't know how to make money (I
hear a few students mentioning that). So, we talk about the land
and what it was like before people from other countries came and
introduced all these material things, such as money and so forth.
I try to explain that Native people lived in a different way and
so they didn't need to go to a store and buy food. Also, I talk
about how things changed when the Europeans came. I explain why
people live on the reserves now, but I don't get into a really
deep discussion about it. I guess I try to clarify the beliefs
they have been exposed to, concerning the Native culture. I tell
them that prior to our contact with the European culture, we lived
off the land, but today we don't need to do that because we go
to school and become teachers, doctors, or whatever, to support
ourselves. I explain that some people do not live this way, but
that their way of living is okay. The children are starting to
understand, but I don't think we discuss it enough. Sometimes
I feel like I'm the only person on this journey. It gets overwhelming,
at times, because I want to do everything. I want them to learn
so they are prepared for high school when they take Cree or Native
studies. I don't want to discourage them from taking Cree.
I try to get
the students to use their imaginations as much as possible, rather
than me doing all the thinking for them. I want them to know that
they have a mind of their own and that it should be developing.
I can tell if something is meaningful by the way students react
to it. I try to get them to create on their own because I know
they enjoy creating their own work. Then it's really their own;
someone else has not done it for them. It takes a long time, but
I have noticed that when they finish they want tot take their
work home and show their parents. It's their own work that they
can have forever, full of Cree words and numbers.
I always wanted
the picture of the inside of a cabin in my classroom. So I got
students in Grades 3 and 4 to paint one for me and, at the same
time, to make their own portfolio in which they could put all
their work, thinking that they'd be able to keep track of what
they did and didn't finish. They said, "I know what we're
supposed to draw in here....culture themes", and I said "Yes,
you're right." When I ask them werhe they got their ideas
from, they replied, "Oh, looking around the room", because
I have pictures of lots of things. I guess they didn't think I
would put their work up but I did because it makes them feel important.
They notice when I display students' things. Even the kindergartens
have asked me, "Can I do that too?" and I said, "When
you're in Grade 6 you can do that", and that's okay. Students
often ask me, "Is somebody else going to do the same thing?"
and I reply, "NO, you are the only ones that are doing this,"
and I receive the response, "Right on!"
would be pleased with many of the things in my class, such as
the cabin and all the trinkets and the language. But they would
ask me, "How come you're teaching them how to make key chains.
Where did that come from?" I have questioned myself about
the key chains and have wondered why I'm teaching this because
they have no significance within the Native culture. I don't know
who started the key chains or where they came from; as we never
had them before. I do try to keep things imple and not get too
caught up with insignificant things. I want the things we do in
class to have a meaning. I used to be very critical in my mind
of some of the teachers that I worked with because of how they
treated the culture, know I would not want to do some of their
activities because these didn't really have any meaning. It's
like pushing papers through a copy machine and I know the students
don't enjoy doing much of the kind of work. I try not to do that
because it's getting away from reality and that's not me.
want to see the language at home and so I have found many ways
to do this. What I do with the kindergarten to Grade 3 students
is to send home a little report card with all the words from the
songs that I teach the students. When I first started sending
these home, the parents said they really liked them. The younger
grades take home whatever they work on in class, like activities
about the weather. When I taught them how to say "sunny"
and "rainy", they took that work home. I thik it helps
if I send some of the words home because then the parents will
learn them too. They have told me that now they could help their
child learn some of the Cree that I teach. Also, I try to communicate
with parents through the school newsletter; usually it's in the
form of a little letter that talks about what we're doing in Cree-speaking
class and what new project we'd begun or it would include little
recipes. Last year, it was the recipe for Bannock written only
in Cree. I told the parents to ask their children to translate
the wrods for them, because they had learned all these new Cree
words in class.
When I began
teaching here, I tried to go to the staff room but I just didn't
feel that I fit in. Then we started having Native lunches and
I felt comfortable. We'd bring traditional food and share it.
We invited the non-Native staff or whoever wanted to try it. Also,
the new teachers are changing the atmosphere a bit because they
talk to everybody and are more open and accepting. I think they
are breaking down some barriers. Now, when I go to the staff room,
I feel much more comfortable and have go to know those teachers
that I didn't know last year.
A few teachers
ahve come in to look at what I do and some have even used the
language in their own classrooms. Last year I photocopied the
months and the days of the week for them and put the copies in
their mailboxes. When I visited their classrooms, I could see
that many had displayed my work. I plan to give more help this
year as I know teachers will be coming to me for resources for
a cultural festival in May. The activities will start in my classroom
with the students taking these back to their classrooms to finish
them, so they won't forget the skill. I think the students will
take more interest because they know work is important when it's
taken back to the regular classroom. I don't usually ask teachers
if they talk to the students about what they did in Cree class;
however, some do mention that "so and so said they learned
this in Cree."
did Marie learn from her parents and grandparents? How does this
connect with what you learned for your family?
- What early
school memories for Marie were positive and not so positive? Are
your positive and negative school experiences based on similar
or different types of experiences? What do Mary's early memories
say to us about school experiences that affirm and enrich cultural
- What are
some of the struggles which Marie has had as an Aboriginal teacher
in a predominantly non-Aboriginal school? How do her struggles
speak to Aboriginal teachers working in other non-Aboriginal contexts?
What might these struggles mean for possible changes in other
- Marie talks
about the connections she had made with Aboriginal students. What
are some of these connections and what might they mean for your
work with First Nations students?
- It is often
said that non-Aboriginal students need Aboriginal teachers and
the knowledge they share, as much as Aboriginal students. What
does Marie do with her students that supports this premise? What
might this mean for educational programming in other contexts?
of a Cree Curriculum Consultant: Coming Home
is a Cree teacher who grew up in a Cree settlement in northern
Saskatchewan. After teaching for many years as an elementary classroom
teacher she has most recently been a Cree curriculum consultant
in her school division.
As one in
a family of many children, I grew up in a small community in northern
Saskatchewan and, as many in that community, my parents and my
family were Cree speakers. I was taught how to live off the land
by the use of bare necessities and some of my happiest memories
include times spent working with my family on the trap line. I
learned how to set traps and how to skin and stretch a muskrat
and, throughout, it was our Cree language that wove us together
as a community. It was a life education.
was a different education. Cree was not to be spoken in the classroom
nor on the school grounds; however, this didn't stop us from interacting
in Cree after school hours. My dad wanted me to quit in grade
8, but I disagreed. I spoke with my teacher about this concern
and she convinced him to allow me to remain in school. Throughout
my teen years, I carried the dream of becoming a teacher. In the
early 70's, I worked for two and a half years as a teacher aide
and in the summer of 1973, northern Lights sponsored the teacher
aides in a class at the university. My experiences were beginning
to convince that I could become a teacher. NORTEP had just begun
their teacher education program in La Ronge and I decided to apply.
a grade 10 education, NORTEP was a great challenge and a greater
opportunity. I had a young family to support and an education
to pursue. However, these challenges became a turning point in
my life. NORTEP gave me a new perspective of my Aboriginal ancestry
and gave me an awareness of what my people had contributed to
society. The supportive staff of NORTEP provided opportunities
for me to assume the role of an educator. I recall my first year
of field experience and the feeling that "perhaps I don't
belong here," but I also remember the support of one particular
teacher who became my mentor. She was positive and caring. As
my role model, I observed her manner and attitude towards her
students. A confidence in my abilities, a determination, and a
desire to be informed developed and grew within me. I had reached
a point where I could say, "hey, I am someone and I am going
to show you that I'm as capable as anyone else!" Through
the program, I saw areas which needed to be addressed; areas that
would benefit the students and the people of the north. I had
found my focus.
from NORTEP in 1980 and for 12 years taught at the elementary
level in a northern school division. To my knowledge, this was,
and is, the only school division in the province that had an Aboriginal
languages team for both Cree and Dene. It gave its teachers the
opportunity and the support to pursue a vision of bringing our
languages back. As one of the first graduates of NORTEP in this
community, the students had a teacher who understood and shared
their background. Undoubtedly, my students would recall such phrases
as, "come on, you can do it! You can climb the ladder as
far as you can go!" Aboriginal parents, who are often uncomfortable
with educators, could be appoached with ease. But, I believe that
the greatest impact I may have had in those years was that of
a role model. One who taught and lived the relevancy of the Indian
and Metis ancestry and, by speaking in my Native language, I feel
that I strengthened their sense of community.
years now, I have been working as a curriculum materials developer
in the Cree Language Program. Coming from a classroom teaching
position into the central office has enhanced my vision of education.
I am now beginning to internalize and develop an understanding
about the division's goals and perspectives in education. In this
setting, I know that I am not only an employee, but I am also
one of the players who is interacting and growing as part of a
very important team of educators. There is so much to be done
in the area of Aboriginal languages. When I first came here, there
was no curriculum guide for Cree or Den, although there were recommended
support resources in use. There is a real need to continue developing
curriculum and support materials and to provide support for language
It is my belief
that team work is very important in the sharing and combining
of ideas, a belief which probably originated from growing up in
a large family. Each team member brings different strengths to
the tasks at hand. As a member of a division team, I am involved
in developing adaptive units in language arts for Aboriginal students.
This position has allowed me to be part of the Aboriginal language
and the English language arts team. Many of the NORTEP graduates
are teaching Aboriginal languages now and, as graduates from NORTEP,
they have a lot of initiative, practical experience, and a commitment
to teaching. However, they lack training as language teachers
because they haven't had the opportunity to take methodology classes.
Therefore, the two areas that I focus on with the teachers in
our division are in the collaborative planning of language programs
and the application of various teaching strategies.
been a gradual and positive progression in educational development
throughout the division, in terms of relevancy and benefit to
the students of the north. However, being proud as a people is
linked to knowing one's language and I am aware of the gaps that
exist in relationships within families and communities because
the languages have been forgotten. I feel strongly about having
a role in changing this situation. The vfision that I have for
northern education is to create an interest in the retention and
the learning of our Aboriginal languages.
on my personal journey, I can see that, similar to many families
of NORTEP graduates, myu family has been influenced by my role
in education. Education became an important focus in our home.
My daughter became a teacher after I did. Today, most of my siblings
have a university education. My father, many years later, expressed
his gratitude for the education and employment his children had
two years, I return to my community to visit relatives and friends
and to repay a debt of gratitude. Recently, I was speaking at
a school with a team of educators. When it was time for introductions,
the principal said, "I'm going to introduce you, but you
have to speak in Cree," to which I replied, "sure, I'll
speak in Cree!" As I walked up to the microphone and addressed
the students and teachers in Cree, I realized I'd come full circle.
I had played a role in bringing the language of my youth and of
my people into the classrooms and the schoolyards of the north.
role did NOTREP play in Jessie's development? What function do
Aboriginal teacher education programs seem to play that may be
difficult for mainstream teacher education programs?
- How did your
teacher education program influence your development as a teacher?
Are there things that you would like to see added to teacher education
- Jessie talks
about team work in her role as a lnaguage consultant. How has
team work been part of your work in education? Are there things
that could be done to enhance team work in your educational context?
School Teacher's Story: Transforming Cree Education
Cree and spent his early years on the trap line with his grandparents
befroe moving back to his reserve community for his later school
years. He has been teaching Cree and Native Studies in the high
school in his home community for three years.
I grew up
with my grandparents until I was about 16. I was in school maybe
two months out of a school year because I was out on the trap
line. My grandparents taught me a great deal about Cree language
and culture. When I came back to school for good, I was in Grade
9, but I failed every subject right across the board, although
I was as fluent in Cree as any 40 year old. I had to repeat Grede
9 again and in Grade 10 I started to pick up a little bit, especially
in science. Science intrigued me so much because I was fascinated
by the way you can relate in to nature. And then in Grade 12 I
blossomed after half a year of Grade 12. I guess I was a late
My dad has
greatly influenced who I am today. He was the first Grade 12 graduate
from Northern Saskatchewan. In high school in the south, he spent
a lot of time with Jim Brady, a political figure. He was into
local politics around here. I was 17 and just finishing Grade
11 when he passed away. I was spending more time with my grandparents
on the trap line because my dad was out prospecting. He was a
foreman and he was hiring guys from town here and he did work
all over, in the Territories and all across Canada. After Grade
12, I took some courses in geophysics prospecting and I did that
for three years. It was a good experience to be out there.
I used to
be really down on my abilities until my sister told me directly
and bluntly "that's all you Indian People say; it's hard,
I can't make it out there." So she got me really mad. That
got me going. So I applied to NORTEP and got accepted. The Cree
Language class at NORTEP was taught in a different dialect but
it helped me a lot with my Cree teaching. The classes in Native
Studies and my knowledge from going through this program here
from 7 to 12 also helped me develop my understanding of Native
When I graduated
I went for an interview with my Band's Education Committee. I
was in there for an hour and forty-five minutes. Right off the
bat one of the interview committee members asked me a question
in English. He said, "hypothetically speaking." Because
there were all Cree speakers interviewing me, I stopped him and
said, "do these people understand what you're saying?"
So he asked them and they said "no". So I asked if we
could proceed with this interview in Cree. They said, "why
not, if everybody agrees, the we will." So we did. They let
me explain all the questions they read to me in English. So I
had to explain to them in Cree what the question was, because
they were strugglig with it. The questions were ones that the
non-Aboriginal superintendent had made up0. I had to define things
like philosophy of edcuation in Cree. I didn't feel right to be
speaking in English because most of the time they wouldn't understand
me anyway. That's why I requested the interview in my language.
I was fotunate
to be offered a job teaching grade 6 in my home community. That
first year was scary because I had nobody to count on as a cooperating
teacher. That first month I was here at 7:00 in the morning, just
rpeparing the whole day so that everything would be on my desk
from period to period. I'd have supplemental material for each
subject area in case I ran out of material for that period. I
was so anxious and kind of scared. I didn't want to let anybody
built a lot of self-confidence in themselves because I did some
pretty weird stuff with them. I set up a cam corder in front of
them, and because everybody was so shy, I got them to cut out
a picture from a magazine and they had 30 seonds to rpesent that
picture in front of the camera. I said, "if you can do this
in front of a camera, you can talk to anybody, you can talk to
500 people." That was in Cree and English. They really came
out of their shells. I was coaching volleyball that year too.
That's the first year they won the provincial championship. Every
evening I was out there and I didn't have a weekend for myself.
Because of that I was never free that first year. It was tough.
I feel pressured by the community to perform in athletics. When
I told people I wasn't going to be coaching the boys again this
past year a lot of them actually told me to bo back to coaching.
A lot of community people came to the tournaments to watch us
and they go out of town and watch us play. I talk to the players
in Cree and their confidence is better. The school committee is
supportive of the volleyball program because volleyball is a big,
big sport in this community. When we came home after winning bot
provincial championships, we had a community parade here, where
the boys held a banner that said, "boys provincial volleyball
campions." The boys walked behind, and I walked behind there
too. Then all the community stepped out from their homes as we
had a parade around the community.
year they asked me if I would teach 10 to 12 Language and 10 and
11 Native Studies. They said, "well, you should teach all
the way from 7 to 12." So they had me teaching Grade 7 to
9 as well, and then a split classroom when I took on this Cree
program I was just overwhelmed. I was expected to be able to come
in and be an expert in Cree and Native studies so I had my work
cut out for me. I could teach grammar, but I had to teach myself
the syllabics. I just studied every night and tried to be fluent.
If I had to write something, I wrote it in syllabics to train
myself. I basically put it together from a variety of resources.
The 7's to the 12's couldn't write the Roman orthography properly.
They didn't have a clue what grammar was behind the Cree Language.
They could write a little bit of syllabics but they were very
inconsistent. They were good at transcribing pre-written Roman
orthography so they just transcribed the syllabics. Now things
are looking pretty good. I picked and chose what I felt was relevant
and what I thought should be taught to these students. I couldn't
just lay out a program for them and teach from that because some
of the mare receptive, some are fluent, and some are even non-speakers.
You have to look at students individually and it was very difficult
for me. NORTEP should be teaching the same kind of language that
they teach in this high school, where they cover grammar, Roman
orthography and then move on to syllabics.
I also use
Cree as a teaching strategy to teach bilingually. When I first
started my student teaching I was working with the Grade 2's and
although the person I was working with was a Cree speaker, they
taught in English. There was hardly an teacher-pupil interaction
in terms of verbal communication back and forth, so I thought
of trying Cree. Brainstorming was one of the things I had to do
that day, so I tried English first and I think I got two things
on the board. So I switched over to Cree and they filled all three
boards up with responses. I did this by conversing with the students
in their own language and then brainstorming. That's how it started
and I have followed the same thin all the way to Grade 12 because
they can express themselves in thei own language more clearly
and concisely. I think they had quite a few teachers that spoke
Cree, but I don't really see any bilingual teaching. If I had
my way, I would have bilingual teaching from K-12.
One time I
was in the resource room and I was listening to a trap line kid
being tested on oral comprehension. The teacher read the story
and asked questions. I think he got two questions out of ten.
The teacher had to go somewhere for a few mintues to answer a
phone, so I quickly read the story to him again in Cree and asked
him the ten questions and he just nailed the ten questions off
just like that. So I think there is bias there. That's why I interchange
the two languages.
When I teach
in the classroom I always use my first language. The only time
I speak English is when there are non-speakers there, and then
I have to explain to them. My instructions are always in Cree.
If I kept on going teaching and explaining the words and concepts
in English they wouldn't understand. When I speak my own language,
they know. So that's how I teach every subject.
Most of the
students speak Cree, but ther's a lot of the elementary teachers
who are not fluent in Cree. In 1992, I did a proficiency survey
on these students. I started up from nursery to Grade 6 and the
further down you went, the less Cree speakers you have. I found
in one classroom there were 20 students in that classroom, five
were fluent, ten were receptive, and five had just a little bit
of Cree. In Grade 6, I had five receptive and 23 fluent speakers.
At the end of that year, all five of those students who were receptive
chose to speak their own language. Then again, last year, they
had a non-speaker and those five went back to speaking English.
to the Native Studies, I teach Grade 10 and 11. When I first started
I didn't have one book to teach from. I now have seven Native
Studies books, but all this material I have I compiled myself.
I think one of the barriers for me was being put in the position
where I didn't have any teaching material and I didn't have a
clue what to do at the beginning. The provincial curriculum in
Native Studies is kind of irrelevant so I have developed my own
curriculum. I just pick and choose what I think should be taught
in Native Studies. I do a lot of Metis and Native Studies about
the fur trade and the treaties with them. When I first talked
about our treaties I discovered the students knew nothing about
them . They didn't even know what a Treaty person was or non-Treaty,
I try and
cover relevant material like the treaties, but I always zero in
on what's affecting us. I bring up a lot of contemporary issues,
like the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord. I explain
exactly what it is in Cree. Then I bring in the Indian Act a little
bit. We cover the White Paper and the Red Paper. I cover the Peter
Ballantyne Band land entitlement settlement and other current
local issues. Whenever something like that comes up, I discuss
it right away and then go back to the unit I'm teaching. It brings
a lot of truth to Native Studies, and they think, "hey, this
class is for real." They're pretty interested by the whole
thing. I didn't get that when I was going to school. I guess I
a meeting giving these kids some knowledge that no one else is
giving them. I want to prepare these students if they go into
a Native Studies first year university class. If somebody says,
"Red Paper" or "White Paper" or "Indian
Act"or "Constitution" or "bilateral or trilateral
agreement", they will know. For the kids that don't go on
to university, I think it gives them a lot of understanding of
history regarding Native people. If they want to stay here and
be a Band counsellor, or whatever, they can use this material
too. I talk about nepotism and that kind of political mentality.
I try and hit on everything. I use a lot of humor in my classes
and there is a lot of student interaction. I try and remain nuetral
plitically. I teach what I am supposed to teach but I don't really
take a position. I didn't really tell my views on the Meech Lake
Accord or the Charlottetown Accord. I tell them exactly what it
is and then I ask them what they feel about the whole thing.
I tell my
students to try their best, no matter what it is. I want them
to succeed in life. I talk to them like a parent. Most of these
Grade 12's that graduate out of here stay back here and collect
welfare until they get a job like a carpenter or a stock clerk.
I want them to go out there and try for a while, instead of saying,
"it's too hard." I want these kids to feel good about
who they are because we've been oppressed for so many years. They
think its okay to b e passive and okay to take a back seat to
everybody, and I don't think that's okay. I think it's time to
change things around and that's my goal. I want them to be proud
of who they are and succeed. They ahve the same intellectual capability
as anybody. I just want them to feel proud of who they are.
to me and they ask me a lot of questions. They ask me about ski-doos,
they ask me about vehicles, and they ask me about education. I
tell them that I didn't think of myself as university material.
I thought I was just a loser and that I deserved this. That was
my mentality. I've pretty well come through insurmountable odds
to be who I am. I don't think of myself as an upper crust person.
I'm a down to earth person.
What I'd like
to see is some educated people on the Band Education Authority.
They should have somebody in there with at least a Bachelor of
Education as an advisor. The new system gives the Authority more
power and now there's hardly any room for abuse. In previous years,
everybody was under the Director of Education. Now the Educational
Authority is above the Director of Education. I think that's a
good idea. I actually edited the proposal for the chairman and
put in my ideas. There were a lot of people against the Education
Authority and about half of them were for it, too. I prepared
a lot of stuff to present to council. At the centre I put the
student and I put circles around it to represent local autonomy
and community members. All these old models are top-down, but
this model with the child at the centre is more circular and is
it's like banging my head against a brick wall to tell the Chief
and Council anything. There are a lot of things we have to fight
against. We have to fight against our own people that disagree
and then sometimes I don't know why people can't give up that
is not really allowing me to be who I want to be as a Cree person
in this school. That's why I want further education and I want
to go to school some more so I can actually do something about
it as a principal or as an administrator in central office. The
band should be supporting Aboriginal administrators. I'm not here
from Montreal to put in two years and then gain experience and
I'm out of here again. I could be here for life. I do it out of
heart and I care about what I do.
An ideal teacher
will always associate with the students no matter where; at the
store, out of town, on the highway, anywhere. I see too many authority
figures which is not good. Even from the perspective of the school
committee, they think teachers should be away from students. They
shouldn't participate in community events such as dances. I tell
these students I'm at the same level, although they tell me that
I am not. I say, "I am a person that comes from this town
and got an education and came back to teach. I'm at the same level
you are. There is no such thing as social status between us here."
And I converse with them many times out there in the community.
One thing I notice about many teachers is they keep to themselves
and they don't really associate with students out of the school.
But I do.
I feel for
community people. Sometimes when I go to La Ronge or some place
and I see an Aboriginal person, just by looking at a particular
person it make meeting me want to cry inside. I don't know why.
I care for them and I have seen so much because our people are
so oppressed. That's why I want to change things.
talks about the influence of his father on who he is. How is this
influence evident in his aspirations and actions? How have your
parents influenced who you are as a teacher?
- Billy experienced
a strong upbringing in Aboriginal language and culture. How is
he attempting to develop this knowledge in others? What are his
concerns about students in his community? What might this mean
for other contexts?
- Billy is
influencing his community's view on education at the same time
that it is influencing him. How do these community pressures impact
upon the role of Aboriginal teachers? What does this say about
politicial pressures that First Nations teachers experience?
- What ways
does Billy use Cree in his practice? What implications does this
have for your teaching context?
- What sort
of knowledge does Billy want his Native Studies students to value?
What influence is he having on Aboriginal self-determination?
Should this knowledge be a part of the social studies and history
curriculum which is taught in Saskatchewan?
Story: Serving My People
Cree and has been a principal for several years on his home reserve
in northern Saskatchewan. Before becoming a principal, he taught
middle years subjects and high school Cree.
were the way of life when I was a child growing up in a small
northern community. Because my dad spent so much of his life trapping,
I was reared by my Cree-speaking grandmother and aunt and so,
as a young child, Cree was all I spoke. When I was six years old,
and of school age, I was sent away to attend a residential school
in the south. This was to become the pattern of my childhood,
living in the south for the school term and returning home for
I have many
good memories of residential school, there are really no bitter
ones. To me, it wasn't an alien place at all because I felt at
home speaking Cree with other children from the north. The traditional
values I had learned at home, such as sharing and respect for
elders, helped me to do well at school. I was able to listen and
didn't rebel and, in a way, I got the best of both worlds. Although
I didn't lost my language or culture. I think the residential
experience made me a little too dependent on other people because
they made all the decisions for me.
12 I returned to the north and tried trapping but found that I
didn't have the skills. And so, because I had felt at home in
the south, I returned there and enrolled in Business College to
complete a diploma in Administration. Then, I travelled north
again and worked for seven years for an Indian Band, settled into
life, and raised a family. However, I wasn't content; I wanted
more. I wanted to attend university to become a teacher and my
hopes became fixed on NORTEP, the only such institution located
in the north and the only possible hope for my future.
NORTEP was a significant turning point in my life. The program
gave me so much, not only in concrete ways but also in personal
growth. I received funding, a university education, and the training
to become a teacher. But even more, it put me in touch with other
notherners, it respected my culture and language, and it opened
my eyes to children. With my growth in self-confidence, I became
from NORTEP in 1985 as a teacher, taught in a small community
for a year, but returned to my home community when there was an
opening in the high school for the position of vice-principal.
I would like to pause here and explain a bit about our community
which is in somewhat of a unique situation. Our community is partially
governed by an Indian Band whose jurisdiction extends to include
control over policies within its schools. This, in turn, influences
how I operate as a principal within the community, because not
only am I responsible to the Band, but also I am responsible to
the teachers and the community. However, I do not view this as
a problem; I feel very supported by these groups.
of the Band are involved in the goings on of the school and often
drop in. They are so appreciative of hearing Cree in the classrooms.
I value what the teachers on my staff have to teach me about my
position and I solicit their feedback during regular staff meetings.
And, concerning my work in the community, it hasn't been difficult.
People know me and the support I have received from parents has
been excellent. I know they don't feel threatened about coming
to see me, as might be the case with a non-Aboriginal. The students
seem to accept me and feel comfortable; I know their parents and
I speak their language. For me, being a member of the community
is very important.
I was vice-principal in my community for seven years. I taught
the Cree language, Native Studies, and a variety of other subjects.
My desire was to implement strong Cree language and cultural programs
for Aboriginal students. I was able to pursue this dream further
when I became principal of the K-5 school in 1993. As principal,
I am committed to a primary Cree immersion program, realizing
this is critical if our language and our culture are to survive.
I view my
role as principal as much more than manging the school. As the
principal, I need to determine what the community wants and then
work with everyone to accomplish it. Most families now expect
more for their children than just to attend school. They want
their children to be able to read and write and still retain their
Native language and culture. This is really the bottom line and
always has been, since I've been working here. I see myself as
a team leader, part of the educational team, specifically responsible
for insuring that the children learn and develop and, in addition,
retain their Cree language and culture.
When I began
here as principal, there were no language or cultural programs
for Aboriginal students. I had never worked in curriculum before
but with these needs and there being no one else to do it, I began
to experiment and eventually set up Cree language and cultural
programs in the two schools here. To my surprise, they have become
model programs to other school systems.
challenge, in keeping with this program development, is to maintain
a balance between the cultural component and the provincial curriculum.
We work on integrating the two programs and are having successes.
For example, our cultural program incorporates some of the provincial
I tell my
staff that I'm no expert which means I don't have all the answers.
I'm not the kind to charge in on my own and tell others what to
do. My direction comes from the community; the school committee,
and my colleagues and I try to administer collaboratively, as
much as I can, so that everybody is in tune with what's happening
in the school and the community. I encourage the teachers to get
involved in peer supervision as a way to share their ideas and
materials. I believe that such exchanges develop trusting relationships.
we have moved out of the portable classrooms into a new school
building. It is a family type situation, that feels more like
a "home". In the hallways you hear a lot of Cree and
a lot of praise being given to the children by the staff, most
of whom are of Aboriginal ancestry. These teachers are good role
models for the students, showing them that there are opportunities
outside our community. Looking back over the years, I would have
to say that I believe that greatest impact I have made would be
in the area of program development. I can only hope that what
I'm doing here just keeps growing because forme it's more than
a job; it's serving the needs of my people.
talks about the importance of a close relationship between the
school and community. How does he promote the idea of a community
- Are there
ways that your school can become more of a reflection of the community
- What is it
about Abe that helps him form a close relationship with his staff?
What can we learn from Abe's approach with his staff that might
be useful in other school contexts?
- Abe believes
that Aboriginal children need to learn to live productive lives
in both worlds. What about non-Aboriginal children? Do schools
adequately prepare them to live in multiple worlds?
If you read
a number of these stories you may be able to identify some common
patterns that will help you to better understand some important
issues for Aboriginal education. The following questions will
help you reflect on these stories as you come together with other
teachers for discussion.
are some of the common themes that weave these stories together?
- What are
the experiences that these teachers have had that influence their
role as teacher?
- How does
their Aboriginality affect their teaching practice?
- How is their
role differenct than yours?
- How has your
background affected your approach to teaching? Tell other members
of the group something from your background which you think has
influenced your teaching.
- What arethe
unique concerns Aboriginal teachers express in their stories?
- Have you
had experiences with these concerns which help you understand
the perspective that these teachers bring?
- How can you
respond to these issues as they arise in your school?
- What have
you learned about cross-cultural teaching from these Aboriginal