Longtime Prince Albert teacher Thunderchild succumbs to COVID-19

Sask Bulletin
May 19, 2021

Victor Thunderchild

Victor Thunderchild, a veteran of nearly three decades in the teaching profession and involvement with the STF, passed away recently as the result of COVID-19 symptoms. Colleagues, including in Saskatoon, honoured his memory by having Apples for Victor signage in windows.

For more than a year, the statistics have become a daily lead item on the newscasts and newspaper reports.

The numbers of newly confirmed COVID-19 positive tests, the deaths and those in hospital, while also noting the recoveries. Sad surely, but somehow context is often lacking.

As far as many educators in the province of Saskatchewan are concerned, that changed recently when it was announced Prince Albert Carlton counsellor Victor Thunderchild had died on April 17 due to contracting COVID.

Those who did not personally know Thunderchild, or his standing among colleagues and students alike, only had to look on social media for a huge outpouring of emotion following his passing.

One of those who spoke with the greatest sorrow was Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Patrick Maze, who had been a longtime friend of Thunderchild, as the latter was a veteran STF counsellor and heavily involved in his profession.

“I’m incredibly disappointed, saddened and shocked. Victor was such a good friend, a phenomenal person and a great leader and visionary. Saskatchewan has lost a really great man.”

Thunderchild, 55, was not only a celebrated classroom teacher, but a role model for students, particularly in First Nations communities as he was of Plains Cree First Nation ancestry.

As well as his role as a teacher, Thunderchild was also active as a coach and he was also chair of the Prince Albert and Area Teachers’ Association negotiating team.

“Victor was a mentor to so many and a really great teacher. He was a role model and really proud of his First Nations heritage and proud of building a community amongst First Nations people. He is going to be greatly missed,” Maze noted.

Thunderchild’s daughter Renee, said in an interview with the CBC that “he was the most perfect human being of a father. Even when it was a tough decision, he always made the right decision.”

In the same news article another of his daughters, Ryanada said “he was very proud of who he was and he always wanted other people to be proud of who they were, and to not let things get you down and to keep going.”

What made this death even more difficult for Maze to deal with was that it underscored the point he has been fervently pursuing for months–that teachers should be vaccinated as frontline employees.

“They [government] have a responsibility to provide a safe workspace and to keep teachers safe. This didn’t need to happen. It’s tragic and unfortunate. We have been asking government to move to online learning. We’ve been asking the government to vaccinate teachers and it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” Maze maintained.

The STF also voiced its grief via Twitter, saying “we are deeply saddened by Victor Thunderchild’s passing. He was a passionate educator and an active member of the STF. He will be greatly missed by all. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, students and colleagues. We share the grief felt by all who have been impacted by his loss and continue to voice our concern regarding school staff safety.”

Ironically, Thunderchild, who had been at Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert for 29 years, had tweeted to Premier Scott Moe regarding his situation while in hospital.

“Thank you Premier Scott Moe for not thinking we’re essential workers, as I sit in the PA Health Dept Vic [Victoria] Hospital recovering from COVID-19. Get my fellow teachers vaccinated, before this happens to anyone else.”

The youngest of 12 children, Thunderchild was an intergenerational survivor of the residential school system and went on to become the first person in his family to gain a university degree, which was later to include a master’s degree.

Among those who expressed their sorrow via Twitter was former STF Assistant General Secretary Kit Loewen, who noted “this loss is so great and I am so grateful for what he brought to the world.”