Nearly 450 people gathered in the upstairs cafeteria/meeting room on April 24 to celebrate the 2015 Annual Spring Feast at Amiskwaciy Academy in Edmonton.
“I think this is one of the largest turnouts we’ve ever had for this annual event,” smiled Principal Fred Hines, just minutes before Elder Francis Whiskeyjack took to the podium to welcome the participants, community support groups, students and Elders in attendance.
“I am very pleased with the support the school receives throughout the capital region and today we welcome those supporters and thank them for their continued participation and encouragement.”
Elder Whiskeyjack reiterated those words when he welcomed students and staff from area schools, community partners, volunteers, media and others to join in as the school celebrated the coming of spring and the renewal of life with another outstanding meal from the kitchen staff and many words of wisdom and thanks from the podium. The popular and globally respected Elder talked about spring “a season of renewal, a season of hope, a time when new life from the planet and animal world begins anew.”
The 2015 Spring Feast, as in years past, honoured partners and community members for their extraordinary work and dedication to learning, noting the presence and participation of the Edmonton Police Services, community volunteers, Elders, donors, mentors, Air cadet Squadron #12 and district schools that included, among others, Eastglen, Braemar, Ross Shepherd, WP Wagner, Avalon, and Alexander First Nation.
In an interview, Principal Hines said that beginning this September, Amiskwaciy Academy will once again be conducting classes for Grades 7 and 8 as well as Grades 9 through 12.
“Amiskwaciy Academy will be a Grade 7-12 school beginning in September,” he explained, noting that Grades 7 and 8 students “will have access to yellow bus transportation while Grades 9 to 12 will continue to travel” on the ETS bus system.
“This has been a year-long planning process with Edmonton Public Transportation to ensure that safe and affordable transportation would be available to the students,” he noted. He also congratulated teachers Mah and Grams and the Leadership Class for organizing the annual Amiskwaciy floor hockey tournament; the school placed third in the standings with Steele Heights Junior High coming in first.
One of the first guest speakers to address the gathering was former Alberta NDP leader and now Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) Trustee, Ray Martin. Noting that he was pleased to both represent the EPSB and “to celebrate the birth of a new season and new life,” Martin said it was “especially nice to see so many community partners and so many other schools attending. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet and greet one another and to honour First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures in a positive and quality educational setting as we celebrate and recognize how we are all connected.
“Amiskwaciy’s teaching styles reflect that belief through the involvement of Elders, community partners, family and teaching staff that help to create a holistic learning environment. These values reflect and support those of the EPSB as we work together to turn the learners of today into the leaders of tomorrow. Spring is truly a time of renewal and growth – like today’s ceremony – built on the strong, rich traditions of the past, but that also celebrate the future, the potential of new life and the opportunities to come.”
Vice Principal Lloyd Bloomfield recognized and congratulated English teacher Roy van Hooydonk for the 30 plus years he’s spent as an educator, the last four at Amiskwaciy Academy.
“We are very fortunate to have had Roy on staff here at Amiskwaciy,” noted Bloomfield, who said that since his arrival at the school “our student success rate has been constantly on the rise – he takes the students to another level. Retiring later this year, this will be Mr. van Hooydonk’s last term with us; we’d like to honour him with an Eagle Feather presentation today in thanks for everything he’s done for the students at Amiskwaciy”
“This has been a great four years,” assured van Hooydonk, when the welcoming cheers and round of applause subsided. “I love the kids, I love the school and I love working here (and) this is a great way to finish a career. All of the knowledge that I gained here I will take with me and spread it around with love. Thank you all so very much; I am truly honoured.”
Lorne Parker, Acting Director for EPSB’s Infrastructure and Planning was the recipient of an Amiskwaciy Honour Blanket, which was presented to him by Elders Leith Campbell, Don Langford and Francis Whiskeyjack.
“It is always an honour to be invited to these types of positive and educationally-motivated Amiskwaciy Academy events,” Parker assured, noting his surprise and gratitude when called to the podium to receive the special recognition.
Amiskwaciy Academy is planning a new initiative with Edmonton Police Services sometime in the next year – more on that in a later issue. The school is also welcoming Air Cadet Squadron #12 into its fold with an initiative that will go into full gear in September, though the program is currently available and will see cadets parading in the school during the coming months.
“The Air Cadets will be participating at the school beginning right away for any of our students interested in getting involved; this could possibly lead to a career in Canada’s military,” noted Hines, confirming that the air cadet program will become a regular feature (Wednesday evenings) beginning this fall.
“They’ll be using the upstairs of the building after school hours and that one day a week may become two days once we have everything ironed out,” he added. “This is a community partnership between us and the cadet program, one that will offer great value to our students. They will also assist us with ceremonies, including Remembrance Day. This initiative, which was brought to our attention during community meetings, will help open new avenues for our students.”
Air cadet Squadron #12 currently has more than 50 active members, including seven officers who provide direction, supervision and leadership. The Commanding Officer of the Squadron is Captain Simone Villetard.
Warrant Officer 2nd Class Keiran Goyer addressed the gathering and spoke at length on the cadet program and the values it offers for young Canadians.
“I’ve been involved in the air cadet program for four years,” noted Goyer, who said the program “has been a very positive influence on my life. I have been able to meet and make friends with many young men and women from across the country. The program teaches valuable leadership skills that will aid you throughout your life. The cadet program is simply one of the best things that can happen to the youth of our nation. It teaches you everything from making beds and doing laundry to leadership skills, marksmanship, physical activities of all types, including survival in the wild to flying aircraft.
“I am very excited to be invited to parade here weekly at Amiskwaciy Academy beginning in September. This initiative will provide an ideal opportunity for those of you who wish to join us to do so. I look forward to your participation and involvement.”
Leaving the podium, Warrant Officer Goyer joined Sergeants Brendan Herasymuik and Stephanne Gratton and Corporal Grace Bilisky before leading a military-styled precision drill that brought the crowd to its feet with a hearty round of appreciative applause.
Two University of Alberta (UA) students will be working at the school during the month of May, each is participating via a practicum that will offer new experiences and added knowledge for their final year at the university.
24 year old Sydney Bokenfohr is a UA student specializing in both Physical and Special Education; she is gaining extra field experience via the practicum, something she says will help enhance her knowledge in areas that include Aboriginal culture.
Jessica Punko, 23 is a Métis from the communities of Ft. Chipewyan/Ft. McMurray. She is majoring in English and Native Education and says the practicum will allow her the opportunity to explore the winner-workings of a Jr/Sr High School with a rich and diverse Aboriginal cultural component.
The Spring Feast is one of several gatherings that the academy, a former airport terminal building, designed and renovated in consultation with Elders, students and educators in order to create a unique learning environment, hosts each year to thank the many sponsors, helpers, students, families, volunteers, Elders, organization’s and others who support the school in so many different ways.
“We are very appreciative of the volunteer support we receive each year to help with our events,” assured Principal Hines. “We are always in need of volunteers and individuals with coaching or other special skills and we welcome inquiries throughout the school year.”
Amiskwaciy is an Edmonton Public School program of choice that provides solid academic programming within an Aboriginal context. The school, which is open to students of all backgrounds and cultures, honours the Aboriginal community and reflect its cultures, values, ancestral knowledge and traditions in achieving excellence in education. In doing so it provides, with the help of school and community Elders, a meaningful and balanced curriculum, bringing together the uniqueness of Aboriginal cultures, knowledge and languages in a positive and quality educational setting.
Culture is the core of everything that takes place at Amiskwaciy Academy. Working extensively and in close contact with on-site Elders, the school’s administration maintains close partnerships with the Cree, Stoney and Metis communities in and around the Capital Region. The Academy also maintains an on-going cultural exchange program with a number of Edmonton-area Elementary Schools.
“The first priority of the Academy,” noted Hines, “is to provide a learning environment that is both safe and academically challenging. Our aim is to prepare students for entrance into post secondary programs. While we recognize that not all students may choose to attend a college or university, we believe that our students should be able to make the decision from a position of strength.”
“We expect the best from our students and help them set realistic achievable goals,” noted Assistant Principal Shaun Lafferty. “It is our belief that education is about helping students make a strong connection with who they are: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. This is what makes Amiskwaciy’s programming unique.”