By Susan Oreski
(Edmonton) – Tansi! Welcome to the wonderful learning environment of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Elementary School, a Nehiyaw Pimatisiwin Cree Language and Culture Program, located in the Mayfield area of Edmonton. We believe that everyone is welcome and has a ‘place in the circle’ as we learn about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Cultural awareness and diversity are at the root of who we are and how we learn.
We are so proud of our students and our school. Our culturally relevant approaches provide students with a knowledge of their background as well as a platform from which to build a strong identity. Our Kindergarten to grade 6 students work with a Cree teacher on developing and preserving Cree Language skills. With this year being the International Year of Indigenous Languages and with the Calls to Action on Education and Indigenous Language revitalization, it is important to build the foundation of Cree language in our students. Last month our students shone brightly at Edmonton Catholic’s Cree Language Festival where the importance of the spoken word was emphasized. Even our kindergarten students participate in literacy by bringing home our highly engaging Indigenous literacy back packs developed by our learning coach.
We are proud to be the only elementary school in the Edmonton Catholic School District with a Braided Journeys Program. Braided Journeys programming is intended to support First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth to become leaders of character, vision and action. Indigenous youth are provided multi-component, culturally-based programs that challenge their creativity, build on their skill set, and increase their support network. In the morning, students requiring support in literacy are provided with small group instruction. In addition, we have university tutors who come to our school to support our students by strengthening our literacy focus. In the afternoon, our students receive cultural enrichment. Just recently we helped organize Edmonton Catholic’s Ben Calf Robe Pow Wow at Clarke Stadium. We were represented by our own Tiny Tot Princess, Junior Princess and Ambassador.
Through the Braided Journeys Program our students learn to drum, sing and dance. Because of this, our students have been asked to perform at various venues such as Orange Shirt Day at City Hall, school events and we were honoured to perform an opening flag song for Senator Murray Sinclair when he was in Edmonton in April.
Through the strengthening of culture, our students are able to develop a strong identity of self. Every month, our Braided Journeys Instructor presents an Indigenous book of the month to the entire school. Through the books, various teachings and activities emerge such as bannock and tipi teaching and the Grandfather 7 Sacred Teachings. As well, we honour oral storytelling and invite our Elders and guests to teach, entertain and remember cultural beliefs, customs, rituals and history. We place importance on presenting our students with a variety of opportunities such as beading, making ribbon shirts and skirts, researching Indigenous War Veterans in November, learning how to make bannock, celebrating Metis week with jigging and making sashes. We also celebrate together during our annual January Round dance.
We honour what has been given to us through the pipe ceremony which the entire school attends, along with our families and community members. We value our Elders and ensure that they are visible in our school. Every year we showcase our year’s achievements at our annual Tea and Bannock where students perform, and display works for families and guests.
If you would like to learn more about Our Lady of Peace Cree Language and Culture School (Nehiyaw Pimatisiwin), please come see us or visit on Twitter: @ourladyofpeace1; Instagram ourladyofpeaceecsd; Facebook: OurLadyofpeaceschoolEdmonton; or website: ourladyofpeace.ecsd.net
Susan Oreski is Principal at Our Lady of Peace Elementary School in Edmonton.