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Strong identity helps students achieve more

By Andréa Ledding

06/15/2016

SASKATOON — The Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC), Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) and Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) joined forces May 17 to hold the fourth annual Indigenous Language Celebration under the theme, Honouring Our Youth.

With support from SaskCulture, along with hosting by E. D. Feehan Catholic High School, over 400 students from kindergarten to Grade 5 participated in cultural activities that encompassed language and teachings.

“Our goal is to help our children grow up with a strong identity, speaking their language and standing proud,” noted master of ceremonies Delvin Kanewiyakiho. After greetings from the members of the grand entry, an opening prayer was said by Elder Melvina Eagle. Students from Muskoday sang the national anthem in Cree (nehiyawak) after the prayer and opening comments.

“We know from the Call to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission how important these learning experiences are to reclaim the culture and language that was taken from them,” said SPS superintendent Barry McDougall. “The goal of the day is in the name: we want our students to love their language and speak it with pride, whether it’s Michif, Cree, Dakota or Nakawe. We want our students to feel strong and be strong; having strength in one’s identity will lift the student up more than any other strategy we try. A strong identity will help our students achieve more, become respected leaders and community members.”

“There was a time not too long ago that our language and our culture was something we were not allowed to do, but here we are, a couple of generations later,” said STC director of education Valerie Harper. “Today we have our kindergarten to Grade 5 students demonstrating their languages.”

The partnership between the STC and the two Saskatoon school systems and reserve schools has been an innovative and indigenous-based approach that has brought elders into school spaces to share counselling, historical perspectives, traditional ceremonies, and indigenous perspectives.

“I know that many schools and classrooms start the day with prayers and smudging, again something that wasn’t allowed a few years ago,” noted Harper. “We are very pleased with the response to the TRC Call to Action. Language and culture is a priority and it is going to be supported by the government. We look forward to that government support of our culture and our language.”

Harper thanked those who work in the classroom supporting kids in learning their languages, along with the community and partners who have worked so hard to improve the educational outcomes of all students, especially Aboriginal students, who have been historically disadvantaged. The speakers and members of the grand entry were then presented with gifts from the students, including framed artwork and wooden ceremonial feather boxes for holding eagle feathers and medicines.

The students then headed off to a full day of rotating half-hour workshops that included lacrosse, traditional games and dancing, hoops, storytelling, beading, drumming, moss bag teachings, basket weaving, and acting led by teachers, elders, community leaders and experts.

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