by John Copley
(ANNews) – Amiskwaciy Academy’s 2015 Fall Feast took place at the school on Friday, October 9, and once again the chairs were filled as parents, supporters, volunteers, community partners, donors, teachers and students from across the district joined together to bring closure to the warm months of summer and prepare for the next nine months of study.
Principal Fred Hines acknowledged Elders Francis Whiskeyjack, Don Langford and Leith Campbell, the Amiskwaciy seniors group, the Marge Friedel family, EPSB School Trustees Ray Martin and Bridget Stirling and special guest, Muriel Stanley-Venne, president and founder of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW). He also thanked the students and teachers who made their way to the annual event from area schools that included Westmount Jr. High, JD Bracco, Eastglen High School, Avalon and Braemar and then called upon Trustee Ray Martin to address the near-300 in attendance.
“I am very pleased to be here today on behalf of the Edmonton Public School Board Trustees and to have the opportunity to participate in the school’s annual Fall Feast. It is a time to be thankful and to celebrate the beginning of a new season, even though winter isn’t something that everyone enjoys. It gives me great pleasure to see so many of you – members of the community, students, Elders, and community partners. I’m also very pleased that so many other schools throughout our district are participating.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for students and community to gather together to celebrate the changing of seasons but also to learn more about First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture. Amiskwaciy Academy is a unique place that brings together Cree language, knowledge and culture in a positive and quality educational setting. Today’s gathering is also a time to recognize how we are all connected; Amiskwaciy’s teaching styles and learning opportunities reflect this connection through the involvement of Elders, community partners, family and a dedicated teaching staff that help to create an holistic learning environment. These values also reflect those of Edmonton Public Schools as we work together to transform the learners of today into the leaders of tomorrow. Today’s feast is a ceremony, rooted in strong, rich traditions of the past, but most importantly it is also a celebration of the future and the potential of new life and opportunity to come.”
The Academy also welcomed two special guests who addressed the gathering with some exciting news. The first came with the introduction of Sissy Thiessen, who works with IAAW’s leadership, training and employment program as the Youth Leadership Coordinator for the Esquao Leadership Development Program.
“I’m here today to introduce myself and let you know that I will be here at Amiskwaciy Academy in the second quarter of the school year to conduct a leadership development program for female students in Grades 11 and 12,” Thiessen began. “I will be joining you here during the next few week to get to know everyone and to discuss this initiative and come up with a few ideas, including a name for the program.”
The goal of this new partnership between the school and the IAAW, explained Thiessen, is to “help give Aboriginal female students in Grades 11 and 12 an opportunity to discover their strength, impact and abilities by providing the skills, teachings and opportunities that will allow then to develop themselves both personally and professionally. The program is designed to facilitate leadership, youth advocacy and community involvement, by developing self-confidence through the building of healthy relationships and confident communication. The program will also introduce students to the traditional roles of women, as well as to successful Aboriginal women in leadership today.”
The IAAW created the initiative to help eliminate what has become too readily acceptable in today’s society.
“Aboriginal women suffer as victims of racism, sexism and of high levels of domestic violence,” noted Thiessen. “At the same time, Aboriginal women are over-represented in the prison system, have high unemployment rates and live in poverty. It wasn’t always this way. At one time some the women in the community chose the Chief, each woman was respected and honoured for her wisdom and vision. We want to see that day return. The IAAW is a small but mighty women’s organization that reaches out to First Nation, Metis and Inuit women to deliver programs and services that work to create better outcomes for women in Alberta.”
Introduced by Thiessen, Muriel Stanley-Venne told the gathering, “I’m very pleased to be here today to help celebrate the coming season and to join you on the journey to address the needs of Aboriginal girls and women. I am looking forward to the days ahead to see the positive results of the program.”
The second bit of good news came when Zoe Rezac, who works with Enbridge Pipelines Inc. as Advisor of Special Projects Diversity and Human Resources, was introduced to the podium. While working with Edmonton Catholic Schools’ senior high school students on an Engineering Futures Program, Rezac learned that Amiskwaciy Academy Elder Francis Whiskeyjack and Vice Principal Lloyd Broomfield wanted to establish a plant garden in the berms behind the school.
“At Enbridge,” began Rezac, “we recognize that one of the most powerful gifts we can be equipped with is education. We are proud to partner with schools like Amiskwaciy Academy that not only help students get ahead but integrate Aboriginal teachings and knowledge in their curriculum. We are here today to present your school with a cheque for $15,000 to help build the organic garden.”
It took several minutes for the applause to subside before Rexac continued.
“The garden will become a unique tool for your school Elder and teachers to enhance the traditional teachings for all students. Amiskwaciy will also be able to use the garden to connect and build additional community partners that can leverage the space for teaching in many more educational areas, such as science, business development, agriculture, horticulture and even landscaping. Enbridge has also committed to volunteering with your shop class to build benches that will transform the garden into an outdoor classroom. Ultimately the garden will benefit students far beyond the halls of Amiskwaciy.”
Principal Hines talked about the school’s breakfast and hot lunch program, noting that “I can’t say enough about the importance of these programs and having a nutritious meal to start the day and a hot lunch to help propel students through the afternoon. We owe our thanks and appreciation to Métis Children’s Services and to the Edmonton Food Bank for all they do to help ensure that this program is both viable and ongoing.”
Calling several teachers and Elders to the stage, Hines had a special Honour Blanket presentation to offer Marjorie Ness of the Edmonton Food Bank and Leslie Natyshen, who on behalf of the Royal Bank Northgate supports the school’s lunch program with a big cheque every year.
The annual Fall Feast is one of several gatherings that the academy hosts each year to thank the many sponsors, helpers, students, families, volunteers, Elders, organizations 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 reflects 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.