Learning Indigenous culture through the eyes of a young Cree girl who loves to share with her peers

·5 min read

The award recognizes First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students who work hard to pursue education while embracing their unique gifts and talents and celebrating their culture. The award was sponsored by the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) and supported by the Ministry of Indigenous Relations, Alberta Education, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, College of Alberta School Superintendents, Alberta Teachers' Association, and the Alberta School Councils' Association. Over 200 nominations came in for deserving Albertan students.

Natillie Quaife, a teacher and Indigenous Education Lead at Ecole St Mary School, sent a letter on behalf of a deserving young student. In her nomination letter, Quaife said that Kali Galliot was an inspiration to all who know her. "Over the years and through her love of her culture, her positive attitude and hard work, she has become a leader in our school," wrote Quaife. "Shortly after Kali started school, she began to learn how to Jingle Dance. In grade 1, our school hosted a group of Indigenous dancers in our school. That day, Kali wore her Jingle Dress to school, and the dancers noticed her. They asked her to join them in dance during the presentation, and this was just the catalyst that Kali needed to send her on her journey." Quaife said that from that day forward, Kali danced in many school events.

"Kali's family is very involved in Indigenous education in our school. They spend a lot of time on Treaty land, camping, hunting, fishing, and growing and preparing medicines and other plants to share in the community. Kali is very knowledgeable about the plants and animals in our area, and she is always eager to share her knowledge with our class and school."

Quaife detailed one project with the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society that Kali and her family helped bring to the school. "In June 2019, our school received a Bear from Spirit Bear and Cindy Blackstock." She said the Galliot family worked with the school to name the Spirit Bear and dress her in proper regalia. "Our Bear's name is Windy (Venteux in French or Yotin in Cree). Her name comes from the area outside of Whitecourt called Windfall." The plush toy animal is a Reconciliation AmBEARrister. To have one, groups must work with an Elder (Kali's father, Ken is an elder) and teach the animal about the culture and language of their local territory. In return, the bear teaches about reconciliation. "Kali, the Galliot family and Windy have taught us so much about our Treaty Land and teaching of our area, and we will be forever grateful for their support," wrote Quaife.

Sarah Whelen, Principal of Ecole St Mary, along with Assistant Principal Winter Gilroy, also penned a letter supporting Kali's nomination. "When Kali began at our school, she was not the confident young girl we know today. Through perseverance, with the support of her classroom teachers and her father, she grew to overcome this. Kali has worked alongside her father, an Elder within our community, in sharing knowledge and love for her culture," they jointly spoke.

"She consistently exhibits a positive attitude, honesty, perseverance, humility, empathy and a genuine care for those around her." This year's last day of school was her last day of Grade 3 and her last day within the walls of Ecole St Mary School. Next year, she will head to Ecole St Joseph School and will undoubtedly continue sharing her talents and culture with her new school. Though Kali didn't ultimately end up as one of the twelve selected for the award, she received an honourable mention, including a plaque signed by the ASBA and the Indigenous Advisory Circle.

Her mom, Erin Galliot, said that Kali was shocked to receive recognition. "When we heard that she was going to be recognized at the church and because she's moving on from the school, I thought that it was a really cool way to wrap that time up and recognize her growth and how she's contributing as a young Cree girl in her school and her community. It was cool that they did that. We are very proud of her."

Kali’s dad, Ken Galliot has worked in public and Catholic schools for years and is the Student Services Advisor at Ecole St. Joseph School. "He was born and raised in Whitecourt, but his family is all from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. Like any Indigenous family, his family had generations of family forced into the schools and weren't allowed to speak their language and part of the Sixty's Scoop. A lot was lost or shared privately for many years, so it's really interesting to see how the school had started to evolve and change, even from when my husband went to school, to then working in the school and now having children in the school," explained Erin. "You see more attempts to learn and embrace the culture."

Erin said that Kali is supported by many. "She is being fostered with elders and aunties in the community and wonderful people that surround her and teach her and a school culture that is more willing to embrace those things. It's been neat to see how things have changed in her four years at St. Mary's." Over the years, Kali has shared homegrown plants like sage and sweetgrass for smudging, dried meat, Indigenous stories, and her beautiful Jingle Dress (pictured). "It's a trickle effect because everybody is learning and growing from it too. The culture is bright and beautiful and funny all those things, and of course, there is a lot of dark history and sadness and things still going on, but there are such beautiful and interesting and fascinating things to share," said her mom. Kali has also taught her peers words in Cree. "It wasn't that long ago that teaching that wouldn't have been allowed in school, so, it is really neat to see her getting to doing that."

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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