Lloyd Desjarlais, director of Indigenous Initiatives at Red Deer Polytechnic, attends the Indigenous Culture Camp Wednesday on RDP grounds. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Lloyd Desjarlais, director of Indigenous Initiatives at Red Deer Polytechnic, attends the Indigenous Culture Camp Wednesday on RDP grounds. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Central Alberta educators learn history lessons at Indigenous Culture Camp

The camp runs Wednesday and Thursday on Red Deer Polytechnic grounds

The First Nations stories and songs that were “everyday life” for Lloyd Desjarlais on the reserve abruptly disappeared when he went to high school in Regina.

“There was very little indigenous teaching in high school,” he recalled. “Personally, I expected it…”

But all the same, Desjarlais, of the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan, believes he would have felt a stronger sense of belonging if there was more understanding of indigenous history and customs in the classroom.

This week, a big step was taken on the grounds of Red Deer Polytechnic to educate more central Albertans, including teachers and counsellors, about First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

Indigenous elders and other “knowledge-keepers” from around central Alberta met with about 200 participants from the Red Deer area on Wednesday for a one-day introduction to their customs, languages, ceremonies, and teachings. The same sessions are to be repeated on Thursday with different participants.

Desjarlais said “highlights” about Indigenous social protoc0ls, teepee-making, child-rearing, storytelling, harvest practices and traditional medicine were being provided to try to bridge some of the educational shortfalls that can happen in Alberta classrooms when students are taught about native cultures.

The information sharing falls within recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as National Indigenous History Month in June, he added.

Teachers and principals from Red Deer’s public and Catholic school districts, as well as other central Alberta school divisions attended the camp to try to expand their knowledge.

“There’s not a classroom in any school division that doesn’t have a First Nations, Metis or Inuit student, (so) anything that broadens my knowledge base about the students and the families I am working with is important,” said Michelle Green, a community liaison worker with Red Deer Public schools.

“I’m here to be as open-minded as possible and learn about new things,” she added.

Metis sashes, food, music, language (Michif), and homelands were discussed by Doreen Bergum, an elder with the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. She noted that a lot of participants did not realize that Metis people were not officially recognized as part of Canada’s Indigenous population, along with the First Nations and Inuit, until 2016.

Many also did not know that Metis leaders from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are now working towards self-government and writing their own Constitution, said Bergum.

Part of the lesson was sharing Metis music and storytelling; “and I finish off with a jig,” she added, with a smile.

While Jennifer Sanderson, a teacher with the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools is of Metis background, she didn’t know much about her own culture, admitting “it’s nice to finally celebrate my roots.”

Fellow teacher Tiffany Faught said she feels a strong connection to the land, so loves hearing the stories and teachings that are passed on by Indigenous elders.

Since Indigenous studies are now part of the Alberta school curriculum, Chinook’s Edge teacher Chris Neumeier feels that gaining more knowledge in this area boosts her confidence as a teacher.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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Doreen Bergum, an elder with the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, led discussions on Wednesday about the history of Metis people at the Indigenous Culture Camp on Red Deer Polytechnic grounds. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff)

Doreen Bergum, an elder with the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, led discussions on Wednesday about the history of Metis people at the Indigenous Culture Camp on Red Deer Polytechnic grounds. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff)