Students at St. Anne School get hands-on learning to commemorate Louis Riel Day

Sask Bulletin
December 15, 2021

Students at St. Anne School commemorated Louis Riel Day in a unique way thanks to a special partnership.

While teacher candidates from the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teachers Education Program have been working informally with young learners at St. Anne School in Saskatoon all year, the educators in training brought special, age-appropriate opportunities to the 180 elementary school students on Louis Riel Day on November 16.

“SUNTEP students have a long tradition of organizing an event to commemorate Louis Riel Day. This year, they decided to bring the experience into the classroom to celebrate, raise awareness and instill Métis pride,” explained Ashley Shaw, student support and faculty, SUNTEP at Gabriel Dumont College, which is a part of the larger Gabriel Dumont Institute.

Ashley Shaw, student support and faculty at Saskatchewan Urban Native Teachers Education Program, lead the students at St. Anne School in Saskatoon through a series of activities to commemorate Louis Riel Day on November 16.

“The staff at St. Anne School have been open to our ideas and having the teacher candidates join the classroom for instruction and observation. The SUNTEP students have observed literacy lessons, collaborated with the Grades 7 and 8 class to co-write stories connected to Rougarou or Métis mythology, and facilitated Métis-specific lessons for Louis Riel Day. We hope to continue learning from each other.”

Riel was executed in Regina by the Canadian government on November 16, 1885.

Although hanged for treason, the Métis leader has since been celebrated for heading a resistance movement against the federal government, which fought for the rights of Métis and francophone people in Western Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a message of partnership on behalf of the federal government, which is illustrated locally in the collaboration between St. Anne School and SUNTEP.

“As we celebrate Louis Riel’s life, we also acknowledge the injustices and systemic racism the Métis people – and all Indigenous peoples – have faced for centuries and continue to face today. We know that it is only by working together that we will make real progress in righting these wrongs,” said Shaw.

“Our students have been really receptive and have been building strong relationships with the SUNTEP students who bring so much hands-on learning with them,” said Chad Gusikoski, principal at St. Anne School, which has been recognized as an exemplary school in the area of inquiry-based learning.

“On Louis Riel Day, the upper-grade students had a chance to make a Métis symbol of beads and there was reading and less intricate crafts appropriate for the younger students. It was a special day for our students that tied back in to their previous learnings.”

Beaded Metis

The Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program is a four-year program designed for Métis and non-status Indigenous students who want to teach at either the early or middle years or secondary level. It’s offered by Gabriel Dumont College in partnership with the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan.

Field experience begins early in the program and continues through to graduation.

Classroom experience includes, but is not limited to, urban centres, rural communities, northern schools, First Nations schools and Catholic school divisions.

“The enhanced opportunities for field experience is a testament to the uniqueness of SUNTEP,” said Shaw. “Our instructors work diligently to plan and collaborate with schools within our community to provide the teacher candidates with classroom experience throughout their coursework. SUNTEP Saskatoon works together with Westmount Community School and has also partnered with St. Michael Community School as well.”

The partnership with SUNTEP began after a conversation between Shaw and one of the school’s teachers, Shawn Lewandowski, an alumni of SUNTEP who was seeking an opportunity to connect with the program. 

“I am very thankful to the staff and students at St. Anne School for accepting and welcoming SUNTEP students into their classrooms,” said Shaw. “The SUNTEP teacher candidates are always filled with a renewed enthusiasm for teaching and learning when we reflect on our experiences at the school. I hope we can continue to collaborate and share our resources. The staff at St. Anne School have a wealth of experience as mentor teachers. This partnership has a great potential to impact the community, so we hope to maintain the connections and continue working together.”

This is not St. Anne School’s first foray into bringing a greater awareness of First Nations and Indigenous understanding to students. After postponing last year’s Treaty 6 medal installation due to COVID-19, the school hosted a ceremony in October as a sign of their commitment to treaty education and as a response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

To accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols, students watched the live-stream event in their classrooms and were able to share a portion of what they learned, including the history of Treaty 6, Calls to Action, Seven Sacred Teachings and Métis jigging.

Students have also had the opportunity to work on a mural in the school library with renowned artist Kevin Pee-ace, who is a member of both the Yellow Quill First Nation and Peter Chapman First Nation.

For Shaw, this project goes full circle.

“Ashley and her students are incredible. She works very hard and is always coming up with great ideas to present to the kids. It’s been awesome; the students here at the school have really given her and her students a great reception,” shared Gusikoski.

“When Ashley came to the school, we quickly realized that she had attended St. Anne School herself [Grades 3 to 7]. Our vice-principal, Mrs. Carol Engel, had been her teacher before. It was a neat reunion for them and highlighted for all of us that it was meant to be.”