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“We only read one story called On the Trapline [by David Alexander Robertson] in the class now,” Kassidy Neilsen, a teacher at Sakewew High School in North Battleford told the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan (MCoS) when she applied for a small grant to Indigenize her classroom.

Neilsen, who teaches Grade 9 with a focus on Treaty Education in the Battlefords, hoped to broaden the options available to her students. She also hoped to create more conversations about Indigenous authors and stories her classroom didn’t usually get to hear. At the same time, she wanted to update her classroom library with “anti-oppressive and multiculturally diverse” books.

Her vision for the project, spearheaded at the end of the 2023-24 school year, included diversity in the selection of books offered to the largely-Indigenous classroom who reside in First Nation communities around the Battlefords. She hoped that students could see themselves, their languages, and their cultures in the books they read.

“It allows the students to see themselves in the books they read. They see familiar language that is used at home and names that are used in their homes for their family relations,” she said in her application.

After successfully applying for funding through MCoS’s Multicultural Education Initiative (MEI), which offers grants from $200 to $400 for projects in classrooms and school boards across the province, her project became a reality.

The newly-acquired class library now includes books set to be used to teach lessons in English Language Arts and Geography while showing the class stories about themselves and other Indigenous cultures.

Books purchased with the grant include:

  • The Case of the Burgled Bundle by Micheal Hutchinson
  • Nattiq and the Land of the Statues by Barbara Landry and illustrated by Martha Kyak
  • Treaty Words by Aimee Craft and illustrated by Luke Swinson
  • The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson
  • We All Play by Julie Flett
  • Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas and illustrated by Maya McKibbin
  • We Belong to the Drum by Sandra Lamouche and illustrated by Azby Whitecalf
  • The Indigenous Peoples’ Atlas of Canada by The Royal Canadian Geographic Society/Canadian Geographic

Neilsen noted the project’s success is evident. Now, students see themselves represented in the books they read, a significant move towards equal representation in the classroom.

“How did you get all these books that are all about natives?” asked one student. Another noted that their cousin, Azby Whitecalf from Sweetgrass First Nation, had illustrated one of the books the class now has access to, further highlighting the project’s success.

The newly-Indigenized classroom library has not only brought stories about themselves and other Indigenous cultures to the students but has also empowered them. Inspired by the new stories, the students initiated a project where they read the new stories and used them as inspiration for tipi creations.

This initiative not only taught the students more about themselves and their own culture but also promoted Indigenous wellbeing and brought anti-oppressive stories to students in North Battleford, fostering a sense of pride and cultural awareness for the 25 Indigenous youth in Neilsen’s classroom.

To read more MCoS success stories every single month, keep an eye on our blog or join our newsletter to get monthly updates! Did you know funding from the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan is used throughout the year to support programs, events, and other initiatives in Saskatchewan? If not, visit our website here to see if you can apply or learn more.

The Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan has been raising awareness of the benefits of cultural diversity and the dangers of racism since November 22, 1975. MCoS became a provincial not-for-profit, non-governmental agency that works to ensure ethnocultural survival, strength and prominence and foster opportunities for cross-cultural interaction.

When students shared their desire to learn to make ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts to honour their culture and themselves, this class project began. The goal was to provide materials and understanding for equitable access to cultural resources, and foster a greater understanding of the importance of ribbon skirts and shirts in First Nations and Métis culture for all students in the class.

Aiming to wear ribbon skirts and shirts at the annual Mount Royal Collegiate Pow Wow, this activity included cultural teachings that increased the meaning of making the clothing. It was interesting that some students planned on wearing them to the U of S Graduation Pow Wow.

One can tell the impact of this sewing project is huge when you listen to some of the sentiments shared by the students. “I have always wanted a ribbon shirt, but I didn’t know anyone who could help me make one or make one with me”, “I feel like I will fit in when we have cultural events at the school” and “I feel so proud that I made this ribbon skirt on my own!”.

All students happily learned about their own or another culture whether they were among the 7 who proudly identified as Indigenous, having Indigenous heritage or Métis, or the eight belong to other ethnic groups (Filipino, various European heritages). Several students asked to continue to study regalia and how different nations of Indigenous people showed their cultures and history through regalia which lead to a discussion on Potlach, Pow Wow’s and other ways of sharing knowledge and historical impact.

A lot of learning comes from experience and being in the moment. Hence, the teachers deliberate actions to normalize incorporation of Indigenous learnings in the school culture to help Indigenous students, staff, and families feel valued. So, working with facilitators and elders outside the school, Grades 10-12 students of Lord Asquith School embarked on an authentic land-based learning opportunity to Askiy-Kamik culture camp on Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. The days’ activities included Tipi teaching, Elder talk, and traditional land experiences.

It was a time of great learning for both the students and their teachers as they were able to physically see how a Tipi looks, how it is erected, as well as given the opportunity to hear the teachings around the Tipi from an elder. Right from the camp, teachers saw opportunities for bringing these teachings into the classroom. While students were more consistent in seeing Indigenous knowledge through a positive lens.

Trey Rousell excitedly said; “It was really fun to learn about a different culture and drink muskeg tea”.