High Prairie School Division was honoured with a provincial award for its commitment and progress to promote Indigenous reconciliation.
The HPSD Indigenous Education Coach (IEC) Team received the Promoting and Advancing One or More of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in Relation to Education in Alberta Award from the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta.
Team members, HPSD administration and trustees accepted the award May 27 at the association’s awards night in Calgary, says an HPSD news release June 15.
“Our Indigenous Education Coach Team has worked diligently over the years to provide lessons and unit plans to our teachers,” Supt. Laura Poloz says.
“Those plans are done in collaboration and partnership with local Elders and Knowledge Keepers and presented and taught by those Elders and Knowledge Keepers to provide a greater worldview and understanding of Truth and Reconciliation.”
The school board was delighted to nominate the team for the award, says board chair Joy McGregor.
“We are aware of the phenomenal work that is being performed by the individuals on this team,” McGregor says.
“Their nomination for the award was very much an acknowledgement that their work was of a calibre that should be, at the very least, recognized at the provincial level.
“For them to be chosen as the recipient of that award was an especially proud moment for the board and the division.”
The team was recognized for its notable accomplishments, including:
-The founding of a division-wide hand games tournament in collaboration with local Elder Herman Sutherland;
-A divisional Cree language project facilitated by Dr. Kevin Lewis, a Plains Cree professor, researcher and writer;
-The creation of a tipi from start to finish at Joussard School. The tipi, located in the school atrium, was built by students, staff and local Elders Allan and Ann Koski;
-A division-wide logo contest was held with the winning design being featured on HPSD’s own orange shirts on Orange Shirt Day;
-The inaugural divisional Round Dance was held in March in collaboration with Julia Sander and Kienan Wilson from Joussard School;
-The use of the 7 Grandfather Teachings of Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Honesty, Humility and Wisdom as a model for character education in several schools.
The building of student capacity is reflected in the founding of the Youth Council for Reconciliation comprised of youth groups in each school. The student-led groups focus on moving reconciliation forward within their schools and communities. They lead cultural celebrations and events, attend division-wide conferences and work to create real change.
The team leads ongoing professional development for staff and has provided one hour of PD each month to teachers during a regular PD day over the past five years.
The focus on professional development is essential to ensure teachers feel confident and equipped to incorporate Indigenous teachings and history into their curriculum in ways that are meaningful and respectful. This combined approach to incorporate Indigenous teachings and history into its curriculum is a model for other schools and educational institutions to follow.
Students are equipped with the knowledge, skills and empathy to become healthy individuals and transformative leaders in society.
The award was created in 2022 by the PSBAA to encourage school divisions to further pursue the 99 calls to action recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.
The IEC Team plays a vital role in advancing reconciliation within schools and communities in HPSD, the news release says.
The model that has been created supports all staff in meeting this standard and instills in students a deep understanding of Canadian history, including Indigenous cultures, perspectives, treaties and land agreements, the legacy of residential schools and the contributions of Indigenous culture in shaping our Canadian society.
They have developed a wide-ranging collections of lesson plans on Indigenous teachings, ceremonies and accurate historical events related to curricular outcomes.
Land-based learning is an integral component of this educational programming. Relocating the classroom to the land allows for true connection with the earth, plants, animals and one another. Teachings are always led by Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers and are an opportunity for students to receive the passing down of knowledge in a traditional way.
Indigenous learners see themselves mirrored in the curriculum, with classroom content reflecting all subject areas in a respectful and authentic way.
HPSD was chosen to presents its Indigenous education program as a success story at the Alberta Rural Education Symposium held March 5-7 in Edmonton hosted by Alberta Education. Two team members spoke about the practices and approaches used in the program, how it has been created to support Indigenous knowledge systems and how those ways of knowing and being create a richer learning experience for all students.
There is not one day during the school year that an Elder is not present in at least one classroom or working with students on land-based education activities.
The team’s involvement in the Zone 1 First Nations, Metis and Inuit Committee and work with local school boards has significantly impacted understanding and promoting reconciliation efforts.
by Richard Froese