Indigenous Day at Carlton Comprehensive High School on Friday served as a tribute to late Carlton teacher Victor Thunderchild, one of the teachers who helped found the school’s Indigenous Culture Day.
During the Grand Entry that opened the ceremony, Thunderchild's friend and colleague Kelly Klassen paid tribute to him and to his efforts. Klassen said it was an honour to pay tribute to Thunderchild, who passed away from COVID-19 in April.
“Victor was a unique and rare person who was passionately devoted to his family, friends and his Indigenous culture,” Klassen said. “As a teacher for 29 years Victor was well known in the community for his dedication to his students and his passion for education.”
Thunderchild was from Thunderchild First Nation, and spent many years insuring that First Nations and Metis students walking through the doors of Carlton Comprehensive Public High School were heard, seen, advocated for and protected, Klassen explained.
“He will forever be remembered by generations of students as their champion. On this day we honour Victor as a friend, a colleague and someone that recognized student potential and gave them the tools to succeed,” Klassen said.
“We are all so honoured to have known him and we know that his legacy will live on in thousands of students lives that he mentored, cared for and empowered,” he said.
Klassen added that it’s always difficult when individuals devoted to helping children learn about and maintain their culture are no longer with us.
“He mentored and inspired so many of our young people and now he has left a void with his passing,” he said.
“Victor once said that someone needed to be there for Indigenous kids to make a difference to those who did not have a role model. He connected with people and made everyone feel they are a part of something important. As a teacher, he worked to connect with each of his students. His passion was Cree language, sharing his culture in schools and with his own grandchildren who are here today.
“Today he is smiling down on us as his Indigenous culture is being celebrated here today,” Klassen added.
Carlton Indigenous Day started when Thunderchild, Bonnie Vandale, and two others began a project to celebrate Indigenous students.
“We know that June 21 is Indigenous Day across Canada but found that there are too many celebrations that day. We figured the start of the school year is a great time to host such an event,” Vandale said.
“This year is an important one because we have all been cooped up because of COVID-19. This year we would like to remember our colleague Mr. Thunderchild who passed away this year due to COVID.”
The committee grew from four people to over 15 people and she acknowledged all of the organizing committee, custodians and cafeteria staff who lent a hand for the day.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for helping me with this huge endeavour,” Vandale said.
Tynisha McKay, who graduated in 2021, designed the shirt for the day, which was on sale at the trade fair. A shirt was also presented to principal Jeff Court.
The Grand Entry included special guest Lieutenant Governor Russell Mirasty, elders, Prince Albert Police, Thunderchild's family and other dignitaries. The Eagle Staff carrier was Keenan Flying Buffalo and various flag bearers for the Canadian, Union Jack, Prince Albert, Metis Flag and Saskatchewan flags were part of the procession.
Before the Grand Entry began there was a prayer by Elder Liz Settee, who acknowledged the spirit of Thunderchild.
“He was one of the ones who brought this day forward,” she said. “So please, Creator, guide us to continue those teachings and the passion that Victor shared with open arms, open hearts, open minds.”
Mayor Greg Dionne brought greetings on behalf of the City of Prince Albert, director of education Robert Bratvold brought greetings on behalf of the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and Carlton Principal Jeff Court brought greetings on behalf of the school.
During his speech Court thanked the Thunderchild family for coming, and wore his ribbon shirt that was gifted to him by Thunderchild.
Mirasty was the first speaker and thanked everyone for the invitation as a special guest He explained that he is a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and his wife Donna is originally from Cumberland House.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to travel to the north and engage with people, particularly young people that we are here celebrating, it really warms our hearts to a be a part of that,” he said. “It's important to acknowledge and recognize and celebrate the different cultures that we have in our community and today you are demonstrating just that with this celebration.”
Mirasty acknowledged that the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is on September 30 as well as Orange Shirt Day. He said it’s important for Canadians to honour those who attended residential schools, but didn’t make it home.
“It's a difficult history that we have to acknowledge and we must acknowledge it if we are to move on together as peoples here in this country,” Mirasty said. “Learning the truth and acknowledging and understanding what happened is really important in terms of paving the way forward. It is the only way that we can move on to be better neighbours, to be more supportive of each other and to walk together as we look to the future.
“Your efforts here in celebrating this day as well as your efforts in working towards reconciliation are extremely important. With your work and the work that is going on around this province it gives us all hope.”
Mirasty concluded by giving the Lieutenant Governor's greetings on behalf of Queen Elizabeth in the spirit of reconciliation shared the greeting in his first language of Woodland Cree.
The Indigenous Day included powwow demonstrations, square dancing and fiddle performances, breakout sessions on many topics, a lunch and trade fair and concluded with an indoor concert by Constant Reminder.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald