by John Copley
(ANNews) – The new school year is underway and throughout the Capital region, area schools are planning their schedules, setting their goals and creating opportunities to help give students the tools and knowledge they’ll need to move ahead in years to come.
Kingsway Avenue-based Amiskwaciy Academy introduced the 2016-17 school year to its community partners and supporters, Elders and others during the school’s annual Fall Feast, an initiative designed to introduce and honour valued members of the community for their participation, sponsorship and support. Each year the Edmonton school honours the many companies, city services, groups and individuals involved with the school and its student body. The school hosts several feasts each year and each one is accompanied by a scrumptious meal prepared by the facility’s kitchen staff.
Amiskwaciy Academy’s 2016 Fall Feast took place at the school on Friday, October 7. The initiative, organized and hosted by the Elders, staff, students and volunteers at Amiskwaciy Academy, was another successful venture this year. Numerous schools from across the district were invited to join in as the school celebrated the coming of a new season and this year Amiskwaciy students and staff were joined by peers and colleagues from Ross Shepherd, WP Wagner, Avalon, East Glen and M.E. LaZerte schools.
Members of both Edmonton Police Services and the RCMP attended the event; both of these community supporters work with the students at the school and participate in floor hockey and other sports/fitness events. The EPSB was well represented once again this year with several public school members named as recipients of honour blankets, a traditional, Native American-inspired wool Pendleton Blanket, presented as a symbol of appreciation for ongoing commitment and extraordinary effort.
Various groups who work with the school, including the Active Aboriginal Seniors Group of Edmonton (AASGE), were also in attendance. When Edmonton senior Lynn Lush and her colleagues formed the not-for-profit group in the spring of 2014 they were looking for an alternative to the already existing Aboriginal senior’s organizations in the Capital Region. The group depends entirely on its own resources and abilities and wanted to help however and whenever the school needed them.
“We set our goals and then we go out and achieve them,” said Lush. One of their goals was to participate at Amiskwaciy Academy and that opportunity came when Principal Fred Hines asked them to participate at the school on a weekly or bi-monthly basis.
“This was the first school for us,” smiled Lush. “We are now also working in five other schools; it’s been a very rewarding experience for every member of our group. And I hope for the students as well.”
After prayers by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack and some upbeat music delivered via the drums and rattles of the Amiskwaciy Drummers and the voices of Elder Whiskeyjack and Academy teacher Terrace Mah, EPSB School Board Trustee Ray Martin took the mic and spoke about the importance of the feast and the uniqueness of the school.
“I am very pleased to be here today on behalf of the Edmonton Public School Board Trustees and to have the opportunity today to be a part of the school’s annual Fall Feast,” he began. “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 here today – members of the community, students, Elders, and community partners. It is also very pleasing to see so many other schools throughout our district participating here today. This is a wonderful opportunity for students and community to not only 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, culture and knowledge in a positive and quality educational setting.
“Today’s gathering recognizes 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 committed 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 it is also a celebration of the future and the potential of new life and opportunity to come. I am so pleased and honoured that you have invited me to join you today to give thanks and to help you celebrate; it is truly a pleasure.”
Principal Hines took to the podium and told the gathering of about 250 onlookers that the school wanted to “recognize several individuals today. It is important to us to give back to the community and our community supporters who work with us to help ensure that our students are successful. The awesome community support that we receive is really unique and very much appreciated. The support we get from Edmonton Public Schools is important and it goes a long way to ensuring the success of our students. This afternoon we’d like to begin by calling the Elders and Superintendent Darrel Robertson to join us on stage.”
The first two Pendleton blanket recipients, explained Hines, “are individuals within our school division who have been very instrumental in ensuring that our students arrive on time here at the school in a safe manner. This past year we brought back our Grade 7 and 8 Junior High students. The transportation via yellow busing has been very successful; the people in transportation have worked long and hard to ensure that busing has been available to Amiskwaciy Academy – yellow busing North of the river, free to our parents and our students.”
He called on Elders Whiskeyjack, Langford and Lean to join with Superintendent Robertson and together they presented the Pendleton (Raven) Blankets to Chris Wright, Director of Infrastructure (EPSB) and Fraser Methuen, Manager of the EPSB Distribution Centre.
“During the 2015-16 school year,” stated Hines, “we developed a unique partnership with MacEwan University. They worked with us and together we were able to establish a dual credit program for our Aboriginal Studies class here at Amiskwaciy. Last year we had 18 students complete the course. A professor from MacEwan University came here and taught our students for 29 hours. The students thoroughly enjoyed the course; our students visited the university and became familiar with it. Each student received a high school credit plus the course was accepted as an option course at MacEwan should they choose to utilize the university for their post-secondary studies.”
The time spent developing the initiative and the hours the professor spent teaching the students came at no charge.
“Today,” said Hines, “we take a moment to honour Professor Robert Wiznura and MacEwan University for the great job they did, for their time and consideration and for working and caring about the students here at Amiskwaciy Academy.”
Elders Whiskeyjack, Langford and Lean presented the Honour Blanket to Professor Wiznura.
The third and final recognition observed during the Fall Feast saw Elders Whiskeyjack and Langford present a Pendleton Blanket to Todd Burnstad, the Director of Financial Services for the EPSB.
“It takes a lot of people behind the scenes to support the principals and the school administration,” noted Hines. “ensuring that our budgets are in place and our students are all taken care of. The Edmonton Public Schools financial department is supportive and very understanding to our students and our school and we appreciate the work they do.”
Over the past several years Amiskwaciy Academy has developed partnerships with post-secondary institutions and the private sector to provide both articulated transitions for students after grade 12, and work-based learning opportunities.
“The first priority of the Academy,” emphasized Principal 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.”