by John Copley
(ANNews) – On Friday 13, 2018, Amiskwaciy Academy celebrated the changing of seasons, welcomed the coming of spring and thanked the school’s many supporters and community partners for their ongoing involvement. Students and staff, community partners, volunteers, media and others joined in as the school celebrated with a scrumptious turkey dinner (with all the trimmings) prepared by the school’s kitchen staff.
The 90-minute celebration got underway when Ava Eggen, a student teacher from the University of Alberta completing her practicum at Amiskwaciy, welcomed the gathering and introduced the Amiskwaciy Drummers and Rattlers, led by the school’s Elder Francis Whiskeyjack. The drums, rattles, chants and songs could be heard in every corner of the spacious room. The outstanding voices of the half dozen singers in the 22-member group were highlighted and magnified by the perfectly timed accompaniment of the group’s chants and rattles.
After acknowledging Treaty 6 Territory, Eggen introduced the two emcees for the event: Kira Currie (high school) and Dustin Edgi (Jr. High).
Currie welcomed Amiskwaciy Elders – Whiskeyjack, Jeanette Lean, Leith Campbell and Don Langford – and recognized, in spirit, the late Elder Joe. P. Cardinal and Elder Marge Friedel. She also introduced the many community partners who came to celebrate; they included the Edmonton Police Service, MacEwan University, University of Alberta, RCMP, Edmonton Inn and Nova Hotels, Edmonton Food Bank and others.
Edgi welcomed EPSB Trustee Trisha Estabrooks and introduced Alberta Education Minister David Eggen, the Friedel family, Oilers Entertainment Group executives Kevin Lowe and Bob Black and members of the Alberta Government, including Alberta Environment and Parks Assistant Deputy Minister Steve Doneion.
Minister Eggen was the first to address the room. He joked about the snow that had fallen the day before the feast, noting that the old saying must be true: “spring is just around the corner.”
Eggen said that “whenever I come to Amiskwaciy Academy I always feel the warmth of the community working together as a team with a very strong academic focus.”
He lauded the school staff and principal for the ongoing work they do to ensure that every student has access to both scholastic and cultural education, noting that that education is delivered by qualified and caring teachers who are making a positive difference in the lives of their students. The minister spoke briefly about the tragic highway accident in Saskatchewan on March 6 when 16 young hockey players, their coach and support staff perished in an accident that happened on their way to a playoff game.
“It’s difficult,” he concluded, “to be able to learn lessons from something so awful, so horrible, but certainly we can remind ourselves how precious our lives are; how precious the lives of our family members are. Cherish one another.”
School Board Trustee Trisha Estabrooks, filling in for Assistant EPSB Superintendent Kent Pharis, told the gathering that this was the first time she would experience an Amiskwaciy Spring Feast.
“I’m looking forward to it – and I’m hungry,” she smiled to an appreciative crowd. “I can’t express enough the importance of cultural teachings – and how Amiskwaciy Academy offers a wonderful example of melding cultural teachings into the school year for our students here at Amiskwaciy. It’s also about the sharing of stories and learning from the wisdom of the Elders. It is truly a pleasure to be here today and to see so many people gather here in one room to celebrate the season and support our students here at Amiskwaciy Academy.”
Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group Vice Chairman Kevin Lowe addressed the gathering and spoke about his experiences at Amiskwaciy Academy both now and in days-gone-by. He said as an avid believer in education he enjoys coming to the celebratory feasts whenever he can; he also spoke about the fondness he had for the area.
“At one time,” he said, “Amiskwaciy Academy was Edmonton’s Municipal Airport – a terminal from which the Oilers flew out to meet their provincial rivals – ah yes, I have many great memories and they all come back when I visit here. We are hoping to do something with Amiskwaciy, perhaps within the coming year or years. This is a wonderful facility and I am just so proud every time I come to a feast – Principal Hines said it was a spring feast but today it feels more like winter.”
After the laughter had faded Mr. Lowe spoke about the accident and the lives lost on a Saskatchewan highway. He said he realized that everyone in the room could relate to the accident. He said the “Oiler family was especially touched by this tragedy” because they too lost family members in the accident. He invited the gathering to contact ticket master for free tickets to an April 17 memorial in honour of four local victims who died in the accident.
Principal Fred Hines was called to the podium to make three special announcements. The first involved a new initiative the school has become involved with – traffic safety.
“Amiskwaciy Academy,” he explained, “is working with the Alberta Office of Traffic Safety to take our shared responsibility for road safety as we work toward a bold vision of zero deaths on our roads. Vision Zero will help us all recognize that transportation related deaths and serious injuries are neither acceptable nor inevitable. They can be prevented if we all make road safety a top priority. We each need to play a part. To do that Amiskwaciy is using our connections with urban and rural Indigenous communities to raising further awareness about key traffic safety challenges. Today we have partnered with Car Seat Techs from the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada. They are providing a display near the front entrance and you are invited to ask questions as they demonstrate proper car seat installation. You will also see a series of banners on display demonstrating the different parts of a safe transportation system. The banners are on loan from the province’s Traffic Safety Office.”
The principal and entire staff at Amiskwaciy Academy like to thank those who make a positive difference in the lives of the students and as such it is a tradition of giving back with a special ‘thank-you’ to those who are making a positive difference. The spring feast saw the presentation of a beautifully crafted honour blanket to long time school supporter and friend, Fred Mathews and another to Edmonton Police Services (EPS) Superintendent Al Murphy, the latter for the ongoing support and work he and other EPS members do at the school, including their participation in various activities with the student body.
Alberta Environment and Parks Assistant Deputy Minister Steve Doneion told the gathering that “we are truly honoured to have been invited here today to participate in this annual celebration.”
He said he’d been conversing with Elders Whiskeyjack, Lean, Langford and Campbell and though he didn’t offer specifics, did note that he was “looking forward to working together on some very exciting opportunity initiatives in the coming month and years, including our conservation officer (program) and our reader service.”
Alberta Parks offers several summer camp opportunities each year and career launch initiatives that include their Internship and Co-op Student Programs.
The afternoon concluded with a luncheon feast that had the whole room smiling and singing and talking about old times. The feast was followed by the incomparable dancing of the Métis Child and Family Jiggers and some very pleasant down-home country tunes performed by the trio, Zachary Willier and the Unusual Suspects.
Amiskwaciy Academy 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.
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 maintains an on-going cultural exchange program with a number of Edmonton-area Elementary Schools.