六肖中特期期准

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Band has ambitious plans

Article Origin

Author

Pamela Sexsmith, Sage Writer, THUNDERCHILD FIRST NATION

Volume

4

Issue

11

Year

2000

Page 12

Long a leading innovator in First Nations education in Saskatchewan, Thunderchild First Nation is close to realizing a dream in the early days of the new millennium.

The Saskatchewan First Nation has a clear vision, the funding and the political clout to develop a comprehensive education package that will include a new, state-of-the-art school and a fresh approach that integrates modern methods with the old ways, based on the cultural and social initiatives implemented by Chief Delbert Wapass and his band council.

More than 300 Thunderchild students currently attend school in two older buildings. With a new school in the planning stages, the goal is to have the whole student body in one building by 2002-03.

?The vision is everyone under one roof, with the school as an essential gathering place to do theatre, host an inter-school powwow, and share a large gymnasium,? said principal Winston Walking Bear. ?The leadership of this community has worked hard in the last year to acquire this school. Funding comes from federal government, INAC and the treaty rights of First Nation people. In terms of school programming and community development, we advocate First Nation inherent treaty responsibility for education, health and justice, part of a very strong movement within the region and province. We are connected to the agency chiefs of Big River, Pelican, Wichikin and Battleford Tribal Council.?

Chief and council hope that a new school with enhanced facilities will help bring home off-reserve students.

?Many off-reserve students go into the provincial system because we lack some of the facilities and resources to meet their needs, something we?ve been lobbying for with INAC. Hopefully, with new facilities and resources, many will come back home,? said Ralph Morin, the director of education.

Bringing post-graduate First Nation studies for teachers home to the reserve is a key component of the new vision for cultural autonomy in the education system.

?Thunderchild has always been a leader in the development of Aboriginal education, the first band in Canada to take over their own school, while others were still under federal government teachers. We want to take control of the post secondary education and develop a First Nation-specific education curriculum. A lot of Native teachers going through the provincial system do not receive First Nation-specific training. What is lacking is local resources like Elders, tribal history and culture. Even our own people are usually only trained in the European system and vision. Bringing in post-secondary programs that train Native and non-Native teachers will bring in the Aboriginal perspective ? we have those resources. This is what chief and council are trying to do here locally,? said Morin.

Central to the new educational vision is programming with a strong emphasis on Plains Cree content in language, art and culture.

?When you look at our whole education system, the real focus is a Cree First Nation world view. Whatever career path students chose, they know their responsibility as Cree people, whether they become a doctor, a banker or work in the oil patch ? that they think in Cree ? that?s our long term objective. It?s lifelong learning,? said Walking Bear.

Cree Immersion throughout the whole school system is also a goal for the new millennium.

?We have always had Cree language teaching, with Cree immersion, fluent teachers and support staff. We are currently doing a survey to find out how many parents will support the Early Cree Immersion program, with a focus on the grown-up children of the ?lost generation? era. Help these young parents find their language and culture as directed by our Elders,? said Morin.

Tying together post secondary plans to bring university courses on reserve, and a strong focus on the Cree language, Thunderchild plans to use education to carry their cultural ways and linguistic heritage.

?Traditionally, Cree education has alwys been community based and shared, something lost that must be brought back. The university level teacher training program we are proposing, will give us important input into who will be teaching us. Hopefully, we can find educators who have experience working with First Nation communities. The University of Saskatchewan is very receptive to the idea. When teachers arrive, they will learn about the community, tribal history and language and get an orientation on how our reserve works, our justice system and the role of the Elders. When non-Native teachers come in, it?s going to be clear what we will demand from their professionalism in developing our system so that they can share it with other communities,? said Walking Bear. ?From this post-secondary program, we are hoping to stem off into graduate studies for both our teachers and any Native or non-Native teachers coming in,? added Morin.

Thunderchild has a community-based integration of spirituality and culture within the education system.

?What we are addressing (using the Cree term Neyheyew, meaning ?four-spirited person?) in the education system are four domains: the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The current school system addresses the mind/body but not enough of the emotional/spiritual. Our cultural programming addresses all four with a focus on survival skills, value systems and the life teaching of our ancestors, through our Elders.

?It?s an old path, and we are just renewing that old path. This is the groundwork that ancestors like Chief Thunderchild envisioned for the future,? he said.

?What we wanted in terms of education is what we are trying to recreate, the vision that he had when he signed the treaty,? said Walking Bear. ?We have taken the place of our grandparents for the number of hours spent with our children. That is why we have to re-establish a full circle. Many of these students, when they look across that circle, don?t see many grandparents there. Elders were one the important educators, the experts.

?We have kind of slipped in front of them. That?s not appropriate for us. What we want to do is stand beside them, learn from them and bring that information to our young people. When they, in turn become parents, they will look across that circle and see their children. Reinforce what they have learned. We have gone seeking far and wide and the answers are always found in our own community, in our own way of life,? added Walking Bear.

Students taking Native Studies at Lloydminster?s Holy Rosary Catholic High School came out to Thunderchild this year to take part in cultural events.

?Visitors are welcome. We try to show our students that what we do is not just for us. It?s also a cultural sharing of who we are, so they respect us and we respect them,? said Walking Bear.

Learning traditional skills in a natural setting is central to the new cultural vision on the reserve, part of an outreach program to mesh with other schools and cultures.

?Our survival camps, held on our lakes, are attracting the notice of other school systems. Requests from other communities are coming in. They want to come and learn how Native people see the world in a natural environment.

?We are willing to pass on the teaching because that?s what our ancestors believed in. We have to live together and in harmony as well, something our provincial school systems are just beginning to realize and our own education system has always revolved around. I tell my students that when they are out in the survival school setting, they have to learn to read all over again. As Neyheyew, they have to learn to read nature, build shelters, cook over the fire and purify water. Strong survival skills are an important part of who we are. We have to balance that with the hours spent in the regular school system,? said Walking Bear.