Teachers study Cree culture at Waterhen

Marg Reynolds leads a medicine wheel session at the teachers retreat at Waterhen Lake Sept. 9. Reynolds said the medicine wheel is a way of finding balance in your life and hopes it will help teachers understand themselves and the students better.

By Mac Christie

Teachers from the Northwest School Division got to learn about Cree culture first-hand last week during a three-day retreat at Waterhen Lake.

They took part in a sweat lodge ceremony, as well learning about native games and songs.

The program is meant to have teachers learn about native culture to help their teaching, but also to better understand aboriginal children and their needs, said Gary Mirasty, an aboriginal education consultant at NWSD.

“It helps them have better working relationships with the families, the parents, the elders and try to help the students improve their educational success.”

Now in its fourth year, Mirasty noted 30 teachers took part in the program.

“The feedback from other years has been great,” he said. “They encourage their co-workers to go and learn about the culture.”

Sid Fiddler was in charge of the sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies. There the teachers learn about the rituals involved and the rules of the ceremonies.

He noted having teachers learn about aboriginal culture is important.

“They’re the ones that are going to be teaching our young people,” he said. “If they know the proper way at least they’ll be somewhat informed about the given situation that they may face in the schools.”

He added it helps the students to incorporate native value systems and ways into their lives.

“We can’t ever hope to be non-aboriginal, so we have to keep our ways,” he said.

Joseph Naytowhow performs a hand drum song for a group of teachers at the Northwest School Division Aboriginal cultural retreat Sept. 9. He also told myths and legends. “Our stories are a way of passing on information or knowledge,” he said

Greg Ackerman, the principal at Gateway Elementary School in Meadow Lake said it’s really important to learn about First Nations and Métis culture.

“A number of our students come from First Nations or Métis culture, so it’s very important to include and have that culture as part of our programs.”

He added Gateway is probably 40-50 per cent First Nations and Métis students.

Ackerman said the program is causing him to reflect on what he can do to include the culture further in their programming, to make transitions more comfortable for native children.

But while he’s learned a lot he said the group is just scratching the surface of what there is to know.

As well as learning about culture, teachers also heard first-hand about the experiences of several aboriginal students from the school division.

“They got to hear about their positive experiences, as well as some of the negative experiences, like racism and prejudice and stereotype, as well as not having positive working relationships with teachers,” noted Mirasty.

Ackerman said the students did a great job talking about their experiences.

“It really helped us to see it through the eyes of the students and to know what they need,” he added.

Grade 10 Carpenter High School student Jacob Lachance, 15, shared his experiences about transitioning from going to school in Flying Dust, then coming to Meadow Lake.

“I wanted to get my feelings out,” he said about why he took part. “To teach teachers, to put them in our shoes for a second so they know what it’s like to be a First Nations student.”

He added it should give teachers a better understanding of why students act the way they do.

“I was a chatterbox when I was young, but in Grade 5 and 6 I used to walk around quietly, scared of being judged.”

One Response to “Teachers study Cree culture at Waterhen”
  1. Eduardo Vallerio says:

    Great ! Good to know that Marg Reynolds is passing on her knowledge and wisdom to the teachers of NWSD. I had the opportunity to learn more about the Medicine Wheel with Marg and I was blessed with the teachings.
    Congratulations for NWSD and to all the people that organized and participated in this retreat !

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