Being an alumnus of the Prairie Valley School Division (PVSD), I’m well aware of their commitment towards reconciliation and First Nation achievement. PVSD is a predominantly rural division that includes 39 schools in 32 communities surrounding Regina. On top of that, fifteen First Nations are within, or are in close proximity to the division, resulting in a student population that includes 17% self-declared First Nations, Metis and Inuit students (36% of which reside on First Nations). Statistics aside, these schools are built on a platform of integration and the curriculum actively honours their diverse student body.
A prime example of this directive is Fort Qu’Appelle’s Bert Fox High School (BFHS)– whose indigenous population exceeds the 70th percentile. The school’s open door philosophy was clearly exemplified when they invited me to join them for a Cree culture camp they were hosting. The moment I entered the building, it was evident a comprehensive education plan had been put into place that accommodated every student’s background, and encouraged students to learn about each others' cultures.
BFHS is one of three schools (BFHS, Balcarres High School and Grenfell High School) in the division that offers a class called “Learning from the Land” (LFTL). This course utilizes the outdoors to combine four core subjects: Wellness, Science, English Language Arts, and Native Studies. The program sets out to marry indigenous values with curricular content in a purposeful way. They do so through immersive experiences like tipi building, Treaty 4 gatherings, survival shelter building, and in my experience: dog sledding. Their classroom is a unique space that is ventilated specifically to facilitate smoke-related practices like traditional smudge ceremonies, which are a part of their daily morning routine. BFHS has a resident elder as well as a resident knowledge keeper who work alongside the LFTL teachers to ensure an authentic First Nation perspective.
Thanks to a generous donation from Wendell Peigan, the owner of a local construction company, the Learning from the Land class was able to bring in Dr. Kevin Lewis to teach a land-based Cree camp. Lewis is the owner of Kâniyâsihk Culture Camps which is a grassroots not-for-profit camp based in Ministikwin Lake. Lewis had traveled more than 600km, along with three additional instructors and – get this – 28 sled-dogs! With their formal training, the LFTL students were taught how to operate the sleds so they could give rides to their fellow high school peers. In the spirit of community, BFHS graciously welcomed Fort Qu'Appelle elementary to take part as well – offering rides to students of all ages.
During the lunch hours, everyone was invited into the auditorium to warm up, indulge in some bannock, and listen to Dr. Lewis tell traditional Cree stories about the origin of sled-dogs. He was very adamant that each dog had their own unique “spirit” and frequently expressed his gratitude towards the species for their loyalty and service. He went on to stress the importance of preserving the Cree language and culture.
Dr. Kevin Lewis has offered public programs with Kâniyâsihk Culture Camps in Ministikwin Lake for the past thirteen years and has provided his services to schools across Saskatchewan for the past five. I’m incredibly grateful to Bert Fox High School and their Learning from the Land class for sharing the experience with me and lending some insight on the heartfelt practices of Cree culture.
You can learn more about Kâniyâsihk Culture Camps at https://kaniyasihkculturecamps.com