KTC breaking ground in First Nations education

Lorraine Cardinal, a teacher from Calling Lake, speaks at the KTC Cree immersion workshop on how Cree culture is embedded in the language. Photos courtesy of Audrey Anderson of KTC Education Authority.

Joe McWilliams
For Spotlight
New things and good things are happening in First Nations education in the communities served by the Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council (KTC).

That’s the word from Audrey Anderson, who works for the new KTC Education Authority as its Land-based Curriculum Coordinator.

“We signed off on our Education Authority on Jan. 10,” Anderson says. “It gives us more control of Indigenous education.”

More money, too. People have been hired, and plans are being made to develop a curriculum for the six schools that incorporate Cree culture in ways that haven’t been done before.

“We’re breaking ground,” says Anderson.

First things first. Cree language teachers need to brush up on their own grasp of the language. To help with that, the Education Authority held a three-day-long Cree immersion workshop at the Marten Lakes campus of Northern Lakes College in early March.
About 20 staff members took part.

“It was tough!” says Anderson.

The idea, she says, is, “to revitalize the language, to get everybody speaking Cree and to be more comfortable spea- king the language.” Cree culture, Anderson says, “is embedded in our language,” but a lot of our kids are lost because they are losing their language.”

It’s early days yet. There’s a long way to go, but Anderson sounds confident, and certainly enthusiastic about the prospects.

“We’re thinking of an immersion camp for students,” she says.

Camps of various kinds are already a component of the curriculum in KTC schools.

Jason Bigcharles is the coordinator, and he’s organizing a camp a month, taking kids out into the bush to learn traditional knowledge.

Other KTC specialists include Paul Neethling (tech), Tedmann Onyan- ko (numeracy), Cheryl McKinnon (literacy), Deen Flett (sports), Gwen Cunningham (career counsellor) and Theresa Brown (industrial ed.)

Overseeing the entire department is Dr. Daphne Mai’Stoina, director of education.

“We’re the first in Alberta to establish an education authority for five First Nations,” she says. “And the second in Canada.”

Of the six schools in KTC communities, three are currently operated by the KTC Education Authority, and three are in Northland School Division jurisdiction.

Anderson says “there will be a transition plan,” to bring those three under KTC control.

For now, the two authorities are partners in the project of incorporating Cree language and culture into the curriculum.

The five members of the KTC, by the way, are Woodland Cree, White- fish Lake, Loon River, Lubicon Lake and Peerless Trout First Nations.

What’s ground-breaking about the concept in education Anderson is talking about is that it seeks to achieve academic excellence within a Cree cultural context.

In the past (perhaps also the present) it was widely believed that to be successful in the modern world it was necessary to put the mother tongue aside.

Anderson says her parents thought that, encouraging her to forget about Cree and focus on success in the English-speaking world. The new concept at KTC pushes back against that.

It’s not as if there aren’t examples.

Anderson mentions Jewish education, which incorporates culture and language while keeping high academic standards.

In the KTC communities, she says, “there’s a lot of Cree at home, but there’s a generation that’s lost. We’re going to revitalize it.”

Linda Desjarlais of East Prairie and Rachel Starr of Grouard School tackle some fish at the Cree immersion workshop held in early March for teachers in Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council schools and Northland School Division schools.
Irene McGillivray from Marten Lake and Archie Cardinal from Cadotte Lake at the KTC Cree immersion workshop. Behind them is Edward Whitehead of Cadotte Lake. Photo courtesy Audrey Anderson of KTC Education Authority.

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