Students and staff at Seven Persons School dance and sang alongside five members of the Kainai Nation – part of the Blackfoot Confederacy – on Monday in recognition of National Indigenous History Month.
The day began with a smudging ceremony led by Elder Charlie Fox, followed by an school-wide assembly which included drumming, singing, dancing, prayer and knowledge sharing. In the afternoon, students met with Fox (whose Indigenous name, Pitonista, means ‘Eagle Calf’), Cameron Chief Calf (Soypoota, meaning ‘Flying Through the Water’), Sage Fox (‘Mink’) Noel Eaglechild (‘Stabs from the Edge’) and Newton Bullshields (who took his grandfather’s name, which has no English spelling) to learn more about Indigenous culture and histories.
School principal, Catherine Usher, said the day’s events are a continuation of the school’s commitment to reconciliation through education.
“As adults, we are beginning to understand this path to reconciliation through greater understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing and ways of being,” Usher told the News. “I think it’s through us – the adults and the educators – we will begin to re-frame how we teach and how we approach Indigenous teachings.
While Prairie Rose Public Schools does not have a large Indigenous student base, board of trustees chair, Cathy Hogg,
believes Monday’s event provided students with understanding and knowledge they will carry with them through life.
“I think it’s lovely just to develop a respect and an understanding of our past while moving towards the future,” Hogg said. “This is an example of reconciliACTION by showing the kids, not just talking about it; by demonstrating.
“We don’t have a large First Nation population within our division, but this sort of education is about educating all of Alberta and Canada’s children on our history. I think it’s important for kids to understand the entirety of the situation.”
While students and staff joined in several light-hearted activities, like a traditional Indigenous style of chicken dance, there were sombre moments as well when topics like residential schools were raised.
Fox, who has worked as a provincial Indigenous introductory trainer, hopes to create a welcoming space for students to ask questions about Indigenous culture, histories and experiences.
“It’s an innate responsibility of an elder to teach the young; to share all the blessings they acquired in their lives and pass them on to our young people,” Fox said. “So, I share my knowledge and life experiences with them, in hopes they can use this to help themselves in their lives.
“If you don’t know much about people, you might have a tendency to remember things which are negative. It just makes it all the more important to share our culture, our knowledge and our ways with people so it will help them create an understanding. If they have the understanding and the acceptance, they allow us to walk side-by-side and not be segregated.”
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News