Students, staff, elders and family members gathered at Ponoka Outreach School to participate in a Nitohtahwin Gathering and a traditional Cree feast on Oct. 26.
Nitohtahwin means “listen to me,” and this event was an opportunity for students and families to express their opinions on the educational opportunities provided by the Outreach school. Following a morning of excellent group discussions and activities, the students, staff and elders were joined by family members and many other guests to enjoy a traditional Cree feast.
This event was planned by a group of students and facilitated by teacher Erin Freadrich. The morning sessions for students were organized around the traditional Cree medicine wheel. Each session followed the theme represented by the colours of the medicine wheel: red – spiritual, yellow – physical, white – mental and blue – emotional. Students participated in activities designed to create a comfortable, supportive environment where they could discuss what does and doesn’t work for them as learners.
“I feel so fortunate,” stated Freadrich. “To be part of a community of learners and teachers who work incredibly hard to ensure the success of everyone. The Nitohtahwin Gathering provided invaluable feedback that we can use immediately to enhance the learning potential of all our kids.”
Shelagh Hagemann, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) First Nations, Métis, and Inuit student success co-ordinator, played an important advisory role in this event. “To succeed with our First Nations students, to really understand what they need to excel, we need to give them an environment in which they feel safe expressing their needs and concerns. Once they feel safe, they are open to providing suggestions on how we can best serve them.”
Also in attendance was WCPS superintendent Jayson Lovell. “I commend the staff of Ponoka Outreach School for organizing such an incredible event. They put students at the centre of everything they do and by asking students what helps them achieve and grow in their learning, they are honouring their students’ voices.”
Principal Ian Tisdale is an educational leader committed to the full participation of students, staff and community in pursuing the goal of excellence. “I am thrilled with the deepening of relationships within our outreach school community and I am excited to use the information collected to guide our practices moving forward.”
Nearly 100 people attended the traditional Cree feast. This celebration of Ponoka Outreach School’s long and highly productive partnership with Maskwacis was a great opportunity for everyone to participate in a profoundly meaningful ceremony and traditional meal.
Charlene Rattlesnake, Grade 11, is new to the school. So far, she loves it and really enjoyed the Nitohtahwin Gathering. “The sharing circles had a good energy. When they were talking about what makes learning hard for you, it was nice to hear that other people struggle.”
“I liked the session where we wrote down what we are feeling about our challenges at school,” added Jasslyne S., Grade 11. “I think teachers will be able to help us more now.”
“A real highlight for me,” stated teacher Shelia Strychalski. “Was watching non-aboriginal students experience First Nations culture in a truly authentic way. I love how they got to feel the closeness we have throughout our entire school family.”
Many of the First Nations students appreciated the many non-aboriginal students who chose to attend this event. “It’s important to do stuff like that,” stated John Crane, Grade 11. “We can all connect and know where we’re all coming from. It helps us all learn and achieve together.”
Dreton Foureyes, Grade 12, participated in the traditional Cree feast as a server: “I think it’s great a lot of non-aboriginal people participated because they learned about our culture. I think they understand that it’s something they should respect.”
It was a great day overall and a very uplifting experience.
“Today was the best day ever,” stated Shaleece Rattlesnake, Grade 11. “Everyone participated and that was great.”