Kamsack Comprehensive Institute (KCI) now has an Indigenous Student Centre (ISC) to provide Indigenous students with a “safe, comfortable space to practice traditions, customs and ceremonies.”
On October 8 members of the community, representatives of the school and Good Spirit School Division (GSSD), Yorkton Tribal Council (YTC), Chiefs, council members and Elders of Cote, Keeseekoose and The Key First Nations (FNs) joined with KCI students to hold a grand opening event for the ISC.
After an opening prayer and pipe ceremony, Jeremy Allard (aboriginal community worker for KCI and Victoria School), provided introductions and welcomed Ted Quewezance as the emcee for the program held in the KCI gymnasium.
“This is an exciting day at Kamsack Comprehensive Institute,” said Quintin Robertson, director of Education with GSSD. “A big congratulations to the staff and students at KCI for your hard work on completing the Indigenous Student Centre.
“Good Spirit School Division is taking critical and meaningful action to removing systemic barriers and we are continuing to engage all students and staff in the long-term processes of reconciliation.
“Let this centre be a place showing students and members of the community of our commitment to cultural reconciliation. This student centre is an area in the school where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students can learn from each other in a supportive environment.
“We are proud of the work being done at KCI and this collaborative effort to making this centre a reality as we continue to grow, learn and share,” he concluded.
Tracy Forsythe, principal, thanked the Elders for the opening prayer before continuing: “At KCI we embrace the values of the Good Spirit School Division, belonging, respect, responsibility, learning, nurturing and perseverance. It is our goal that all students will reach their potential and we realize the vision of ‘learning without limits, achievement for all.’”
“Today we are here to celebrate something very positive,” said Ted Quewezance. “The Indigenous Student Centre is another step towards reconciliation between our schools and communities. We want to teach our young people, our future leaders, and encourage them to fulfill their dreams. It’s going to work.”
George Cote, Chief of Cote FN, spoke about how Kamsack has a very rich history, being located on Treaty 4 territory. “Today is a day to acknowledge and have cultural awareness brought forward. Our youth are our future ‘Nation Builders.’ I am so proud that the school division has created the Indigenous Student Centre in the school for the students to have a place of communication and understanding.
“Education is an important tool. Let’s provide help, respect and love of one another on this path to healing, to reconciliation,” he said.
Holding up water and tobacco, Calvin Straightnose, Chief of Keeseekoose FN, explained how these items are sacred things for Indigenous culture.
“Indigenous people are free spirits who were meant to be in tune with nature,” he said. “In the past our First Nation people were handed harsh treatment that we didn’t ask for. But today, we are here as part of a change to help achieve understanding between our people and the community.”
Gilda Dokuchie, councillor of The Key FN and GSSD board member, brought greetings from The Key FN.
YTC Chief Isabel O’Soup encouraged the students to teach themselves and learn about the real history of the FN people. “The history has not been really good, but it’s important to recognize that to be able to understand what FN people have gone through to be here today,”
Robert Severight, a council member of Cote FN, acknowledged the students, saying, “You are the future and will make the world a better place.
“Reconciliation is about understanding and moving forward,” he said. “First Nation people are strong and resilient, and we’re still here because of our desire to keep our culture. Our kids will make the world a better place.”
Severight, along with his sons Talon, Treaune and Demarion, form a drum group which is named Misko-pinehs (red bird), and performed the Honour Song while those in attendance performed a traditional Round Dance, forming a circle and moving to the left.
Rayne Townsend, Indigenous student achievement coach and prime organizer of the ISC, thanked everyone who contributed to make the ISC a reality and all those who came to the celebration.
“We are here to celebrate and come together not only as a school or individuals, but as a community. Today is about our youth and supporting you all during your journey.
“The Indigenous Student Centre is focused around embracing, learning and experiencing Indigenous traditions and culture, and reconciliation where students can learn more about one another and develop friendships with others they may not have otherwise made.
“We encourage this through our Elder teachings in the classroom, drumming facilitated by Robert Severight and the activities that Debra Severight, Jeremy Allard and myself plan for you.
“The support staff of the ISC are here to give students someone to talk to on those tough days, to remind you that you are brilliant, you are kind and you are loved,” she concluded.
It was said that Townsend and Allard work together to support students in a variety of ways, including planning events and activities, one-on-one support including wellbeing check-ins, classroom support and communication with parents.
Student Teyon Cote shared the “students’ perspective” with the audience by listing some feedback given by students regarding the ISC, including: “I really like this room because it makes me feel safe; A calming environment; I feel comfortable in this room; You get to meet new people and talk to everyone; I like this room because it is very positive, and, I really like this room because it gives me a sense of home.”
Debra Severight addressed the audience and spoke about how, in the past, education was not encouraged for FN youth, especially girls, but about her role as YTC community liaison at KCI she said, “I love my job. I love helping kids.”
Draws were made for door prizes, and after the closing prayer those in attendance briefly walked outdoors to admire a large teepee erected on the KCI school grounds for the occasion. A lunch of bannock and stew was served followed by cutting of the cakes which had been baked for the occasion. Tours of the ISC were conducted.