Category: Truth and Reconciliation

Conversations about Roads to ReconciliACTION

On March 26, Education students from Audrey Aamodt’s Treaties in the Classroom (ECCU 400) section overcame their own discomfort to engage in conversations with peers and profs in the hallways at the University of Regina about the many ways of taking action towards reconciliation. Aamodt says, “Students decided to host these conversations in the halls of the University to remind themselves/us that they not only belong, and have a responsibility, to the more intimate Faculty of Education, but are also part of this larger learning community and beyond.”

Bert Fox High School students and their teacher Sheena Koops, as regular facilitators of the Blanket Exercise, travelled from Fort Qu’Appelle to join the conversations, to raise awareness about the Blanket Exercise, which is an activity in which “participants take on the roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Standing on blankets that represent the land, they walk through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance ” (Source).

SUNTEP students and their instructors Brenna Pacholko and Russell Fayant visited the stations, and offered, in instructor Aamodt’s words, “critical and courageous conversations with students and myself.” Aamodt adds, “We extend gratitude for their generosity, wisdom, and patience with us.”

Regarding what the students learned, Aamodt says, “I think the most important overall learning that could potentially come out of this experience for us was that listening to and reflecting on critiques takes practice and is necessary. Treaty Education, along with potentially associated reconciliation, decolonization, indigenization, and social justice efforts should always be submitted to critical reflection and none are without tension. So, we ask who benefited from this event and if it was truly ‘action.’ Perhaps it didn’t amount to anything of significance, except to make us feel good. Then, we reminded one another about Pam Palmater’s claim that “if it feels good, it’s not reconciliation.”

As for her own learning, Aamodt adds, ” I have learned how I might better invite students to consider who might be the right people to talk about particular issues, some of the problems with being perceived as positioning ourselves (settler-Canadians) as experts about MMIW, residential school legacies & intergenerational trauma, FNMI identities-histories-cultures-communities, FNMI languages, reconciliation, decolonization, indigenization, and even treaties.”

Below are student comments about what they were doing, and what they thought about its importance.

100 Years of Loss Exhibit: Jalyssa Woloshyn says, “We are making people aware of the past and what has happened — and making sure we understand the past and are not turning a blind eye to it. At some points it is uncomfortable to be learning this, but if you are uncomfortable you’re learning more because you are embracing the stuff that you don’t know. … I came into university knowing none of this. It’s not taught much, so getting this out here now for other people that aren’t in the Education Faculty is important.” Megan Dobson says, “The class itself is helping us search for our limits; so many of us that don’t know, or have a lot of ignorance, don’t understand the intergenerational trauma…make assumptions because we don’t know.”  Kerri Aikman says, “Today we’re trying to start the conversation with people outside of our Faculty.”
Taking Action Cookies (and selfies): This group of students offered cookies labelled with one of the 150 Acts of Reconciliation intended to suggest reconciliatory actions, even small ones, such as learning the land acknowledgement. For all the stations, those who took selfies and posted them to social media with #ReconciliAction were eligible to win a Roads to ReconciliAction t-shirt. Donations made were going to Justice for our Stolen Children. Zach Renwick said, “It may just be one small thing you can do, but it builds towards having an understanding of where you stand in society. One person may look at this list and say, ‘you know, I can do a couple of these things.'” Allison Entem adds, “It is important to recognize your position in society and learn what your biases are because you can reflect on what it is you know and what you are wanting to learn, especially for us, and what we want to pass on to the kids we will be teaching.” Zach says, “We need to face these controversial topics, different ideologies, and I need to step out of my own comfort zone to talk about it.”
Red Dress Exhibit: No more Stolen Sisters in Regina. Cassidy Hanna explains, “This is an installation of the REDress Project started by Jamie Black. The red dresses symbolize each of the women from Regina that are missing or murdered. We have 16 missing or murdered women from Regina exhibited here, and only two have been resolved. We are trying to bring awareness to the fact that Aboriginal women are more likely to be victims of violence, and if murdered, are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be murdered by a stranger. The solve rate for the murders of Indigenous women is around 53% and the national rate is 84% so there is a huge disparity in the solving of the cases. So we are trying to bring awareness of this and also to the the MMIWG inquiry.” The significance of the class for Logan Schmidt was “huge!” She says, “I started four years ago at the University, and I had no First Nations classes and no idea about any of this. My four-year degree has really opened my eyes to how many inequalities there are between First Nations and us settlers. It’s disturbing to say the least. As we did this project, and as we went through Saskatchewan, the number of missing people…there are hundreds and hundreds, and you just look at the cases and the rulings, like they may be investigated for two days and ruled a suicide. You read more about the background of it, and you think about how do you come to the justification of it all. Our biggest goal today is to open this information up to more people. Being first, second or third year and still not knowing about this, it’s not okay.” Tristan Badger responded to the question about the helpfulness of this class saying, “Being First Nation, I’ve always been afraid to use my voice. So, this class has made me feel more empowered to use it, and not be afraid of being put down because of my colour. This class has made me be more activist for First Nations and Indigenous people.” Karlee Gordon adds, “This class has covered many different topics; it’s pretty eye-opening! Audrey took this topic of being White, which I felt uncomfortable discussing because I didn’t feel I had the right to teach about it–Audrey opened us up and we talked about them, so now I can feel comfortable standing here and educating other people who are the same age or older than I am, about a topic that so many people still feel uncomfortable talking about.”
Linking relationships: Chastity Peigan and Erin Schmidt were located in the busy Riddell Centre, so they chose an activity that would be quick and not hold people up. Passersby were invited to write something on a piece of construction paper that was then added as a link in the chain, a visual about ” building relationships or connecting with one another…just something simple. You might simply go to the other stations as your action.” Chastity and Erin were hoping to influence people to become interested in bettering relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Road to Métis Identities: Kendell Porter says, “We wanted to focus our exhibit on Métis people, on the four main communities in Treaty 4 (Lebret, Lestock, Willow Bunch, and Fort Qu’Appelle). Métis people are often left out of the conversation, and we also wanted to address some of the myths and stereotypes people believe about the Métis.” Payton Kuster says, “I’ve learned a lot over the past four years. Doing this event emphasizes to us and to others how important it is to break down stereotypes, such as ones about what it is to be Métis. … We want to be allies and work alongside in addressing misconceptions.”
Being a Treaty Person (Kelsey Hintze, Daicy Vance, and Kaitlin Corbin):  Kaitlin Corbin says, “We mapped out the prairie provinces and then the Treaty areas. We have a game to see if you can put the treaty numbers down on the map.”  Kelsey Hintze says, “The biggest thing is just for people to understand that everyone who lives in these provinces is a treaty person: everyone lives within numbered treaties, and its interesting knowing where you are within the provincial boundaries. People will …have trouble seeing the provinces when the string is outlining the treaties. We are taking away that generalized view that everyone is used to, and making them think a little bit harder about where they actually are.” Kaitlin Corbin says, “I’m still anxious about teaching about treaty, but I am a lot more ready than I used to be. This wasn’t part of my education growing up, so coming here…it’s a lot more useful.” What does it mean to be a treaty person? Kelsey Hintze replies, “It’s complicated and everyone has a different perspective on it as well.”
Telling the Truth about Residential Schools: Hailie Logan and Kate Paidel wanted to raise awareness about Indian residential schools, and the importance of adding resources, such as I am not a Number, which can be used with Grade 3 students, into the curriculum throughout the grades and subject areas. Kate says, ” I have learned way more that I thought I ever could. I know taking this into the classroom is still going to be uncomfortable for me, but I know I am not going to stop…It’s important to me.” Hailie says, “For me it is important for my students to feel represented. I want all of my students to feel that they matter, and that they have a place on this earth and in my classroom.”
Road to connecting languages (photo includes Instructor Audrey Aamodt). Zakk Tylor and Amy Arnal set up a guessing game to promote languages. Amy says “Our table is about making relationships between Settler Canadians and Indigenous people through languages. On our campus, we have three towers named Kīšik (Saulteaux word for sky) Paskwāw (Cree word for prairie) Wakpá (Dakota word for river). Zakk explains, “We see people taking these names for granted and they don’t know what they mean. The three names reflect the three aspects on the Treaty 4 flag that remind that the Treaty lasts as long as the grass grows, the sun shines, and the rivers flow.” In terms of their education with the Faculty of Education, Amy says she is “keeping the growth mindset and always learning. We’re not pretending to be experts, but we do feel equipped to teach about reconciliation.” Zakk says, “The biggest thing is the relationship aspect. Relationships in First Nations culture is the prime thing. They have a relationship with everything and that is what we need to strive for.”
It was Shelby Vandewoestyne’s job to hand out maps to the Roads to ReconciliACTION and “entice people” to visit the booths. From her experience, Shelby says, “I was able to see different perspectives at the University: people who are really interested and people who aren’t. This shows me that there is going to be resistance going into schools in the future. In the spaces we will be working, we will need to create inclusivity and work to break down those barriers.”
Getting coffee and Timbits, setting up stations, and handing out maps: this crew of organizers, Ashlyn Paidel, Keigan Duczek, and Jessica Weber, were holding this event together while promoting conversations about reconciliation. Jessica says, “We are trying to spark conversations.” Keigan says, “So by doing this we are coming out of our box and making ourselves uncomfortable.” Ashlyn says, “The hope is for the discussion to at least be started about reconciliation and what our aim, reconciliAction is all about.” Keigan adds, “We’ve been promoting the hashtag #reconciliAction just to keep the conversation going after today.”
Blanket Exercise. Sheena Koops and several students from Bert Fox High School came to talk about the Blanket Exercise. Sheena Koops says, “We’ve been invited here today as people who facilitate the Blanket Exercise regularly, to have conversations about the Blanket Exercise. Our booth is called Complicating the Canadian Story: Conversations with the Oski-pimohatahtamawak, a name given to us by Elder Alma Poitras.”

Blanket Exercise: Ask me something that is on your heart. Michael Starr-Desmonie (L) has been leading the Blanket Exercise for almost a year. “I love doing this. I love doing the Blanket Exercise, so people can understand what my people actually went through…I do this for my elders. Last year someone said, ‘Your people are invisible these days.’ I said, “I’m going to prove you wrong.” People went through a rough time at residential schools, sexual abuse, physical abuse…they didn’t eat normal food; they ate leftovers. They were tired, starving…My family went through that same stuff. [Residential school] put impacts on our history, as kids growing up…what we went through as children made us stronger, made us who we are today. I’m very proud and honoured to do [the Blanket Exercise] each and every time, and speak my heart out to people. These are gifts one of my ancestors told me through ceremony. I’ve done the Blanket Exercise about 20 times; it’s emotional. Each exercise, we have a talking circle. The circle means a lot to us. It’s a comfort zone. All around you, the circle of life, a big family that supports you. It takes lots of guts and strength, and lots of heart as well. I gain a lot of respect these days. I’m also a writer and blog the most in my class.”  Shandan Peigan (R) says, “We want to share our history, get it out there because no one really learns about it in highschool. I think we should get it in our education system by Grade 9 or end of Grade 8, so people know where they come from and know what happened in the past. We can’t do anything about it, but we can talk about it and learn from it. It feels good leading it, but it’s not just me leading: we are a team. We all have something to do. A lot of people say good things about what we are doing. We’ve been told that that they are proud of us because we are young and we are making an impact on people.”
There were three sections of ECCU 400 this semester and all three hosted events: Evelyn Poitras’ class held a Talking Circle on April 5, and that night, Vivian Gauvin’s class held a “Treaty Walk in the Village” off-campus. Also, Ed student Brandy Burns has posted a blog reflection about the Treaty Walk in the Village posted at



Treaty4Project inspires new way to offer treaty education in Regina

(l-r) Leia Laing, Governor General Julie Payette and Naomi Fortier-Fréçon at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of VCpl Vincent Carbonneau

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon and Leia Laing are still relatively early in their teaching careers but they have already left an important legacy.

This past November, Fortier-Fréçon and Laing, both graduates of the U of R, received the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Governor-General Julie Payette, presented the award at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

They were recognized for co-founding the Treaty4Project in 2014 while they were teachers at Regina’s Campbell Collegiate High School.

Fortier-Freçon, while still teaching, is a U of R student once again, working on her PhD.

“When we accepted this honour we were very happy to see that our project was recognized at a national level,” says Fortier-Fréçon. “A lot of work and effort was put into this project and it was very exciting to see how this education project has evolved since it began in 2014.”

The Treaty4Project 2015 mural is on display at Regina’s Scott Collegiate. Photo courtesy of Leia Laing

The idea for the project came when Laing and Fortier-Fréçon concluded that students were not receiving the treaty education required.

So they started working on a program.

“First, the inspiration was to find a way to ‘think outside the box’ and find a creative way to teach about treaty education,” says Laing. “We were troubled by the reality that our students seemed to know very little about treaty education and when they knew something we noticed that they weren’t necessarily applying their knowledge in their lives. Therefore, they seemed to know the “right answer” on paper, but unfortunately that reality was not reflected in their actions or relationship with their friends and the community around them.”

The teachers started developing their idea. They searched for input. They approached Calvin Racette who was the Indigenous Education Coordinator with Regina Public Schools.

Racette supported the project from the beginning and suggested the teachers include Noel Starblankett, Knowledge Keeper at the University of Regina and Sandra Bellegarde, Indigenous Education Consultant with Regina Public Schools.

“Noel Starblanket was essential in the creation of this educational project,” says Fortier-Fréçon. “His presence allowed us to learn in a personal way about the importance of treaties. He also guided us regarding the respect of Indigenous protocols and offered support to our students.”

More people came onboard and the project “quickly snowballed into a group of inspired, passionate members who became the founding committee. Together we started to imagine the Treaty4Project,”says Fortier-Fréçon.

The principal aim of the project is for student to understand their generation’s relationship with Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan. The project provides students with an opportunity to engage with community members including elders, Indigenous artists, university professors, activists, and education students.

Laing had the idea to use art to help the students reflect about the meaning of treaties in a creative context. The result was a major mural project with Cri-Métis artist Ray Keighley at Regina’s Scott Collegiate in 2015.

A second mural created in 2017 and created with Cri-Ojibway artist Lloyd Dubois is on display at the library at École Elsie Mironuck Community School in Regina.

(l-r) Naomi Fortier-Fréçon, Noel Starblanket, Knowledge Keeper at the U of R and Leia Laing.

The Treaty4Project founding committee worked on organizing a youth conference to deepen the knowledge previously taught in the classroom and allow members of the community to share their stories with the students. Elders were regularly brought into classes.

More than 200 students from four high schools took part in the first conference in 2015. Two more conferences followed and now a fourth one is scheduled for 2018.

“The Treaty4Project has allowed us to have the opportunity to work in collaboration and build relationships among students, teachers and institutions and this is what we believe to be the true meaning of reconciliation,” says Fortier-Fréçon.

Says Laing: “Using personal stories from guest speakers, our students are invited to unlearn the official narrative and open their heart to other realities that they might not be aware of. Understanding these stories helped our students access a more inclusive history narrative and acknowledge that they have the privilege of living here because in the past a treaty was signed.”

Leia Laing is now teaching Grade 6 at École Monseigneur de Laval. She earned her Bachelor of Education at the U of R in 2008.

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon teaches French Immersion at École Elsie Mironuck Community School in Regina. She earned her Bachelor of Education at the U of R in 2007 and her Master of History at Université de Sherbooke in 2010. She is currently a PhD student in the Faculty of Education working under the supervision of Dr. Fadila Boutouchent.

Laing and Fortier-Fréçon say this project was made possible thanks to the support from:

Saskatchewan Arts Board
First Nations University of Canada
Faculty of Education (U of R)
The McDowell Foundation
Regina public schools

Founding Committee Members:

Noel Starblanket
Calvin Racette
Sandra Bellegarde
Monique Bowes
Hillary Ibbott-Neiszner
Dr. Angelina Weenie
Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly from First Nations University of Canada
Artists Ray Keighley and Lloyd Dubois.

The teaching team since 2015 are all U of R Education alumni:

Heather Findlay – Martin Collegiate
Tamara Ryba – Scott Collegiate
Tana Mitchell – Balfour Collegiate
Tiffany Agopsowicz – Martin Collegiate
Janine Taylor and Jessica Moser – Sheldon Williams
Elizabeth Therrien – Campbell Collegiate
Tracey Ellis – FW Johnson High School.

Other Presenters and Supporters:

Dr. Shauneen Pete (former Indigenous Lead/U of R)
Dr. Anna-Leah King (Faculty of Education)
Dr. Jennifer Tupper (Former Dean of the Faculty of Education)
Dr. James Daschuk, (U of R)
Rap singer Brad Bellegarde (aka InfoRed)
Cadmus Delorme (Chief of the Cowessess First Nation)
Dr. Mike Cappello (Education Faculty) and many more presenters from 2015 to the present day.

University of Regina feature story by Costa Maragos

President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award Recipient

President Vianne Timmons and Sylvia Smith at fall 2017 convocation. Photo credit: U of R Photography

Sylvia Smith, Founder of Project of Heart, received the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award at the fall 2017 convocation. This award recognizes outstanding academic performance and is granted to a student whose graduating thesis, exhibition, or performance and the corresponding defense was deemed meritorious by the examining committee.

In an earlier issue of Education News, Sylvia discussed the obstacles she had faced that had delayed the completion of her Master’s degree. She had started her degree in 2011 and was interested in finding out about teachers’ perceptions of Project of Heart, an inquiry-based learning project that examines the history and legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada and commemorates the lives of former students who died while attending Indian residential schools. The project had grown out of students’ demands for more information on this neglected aspect of Canadian history. Sylvia had finished interviewing her participants when, she says, “we had an illness in the family and I became very over-stressed. My work suffered.” Sylvia had to put her thesis work on hold, and by the time she came back to it, Sylvia said, “the landscape had changed so much. When I’d started, materials on Indian residential schools were almost nil…And Project of Heart had grown exponentially!” Her initial vision which was to be a “snapshot in time” had become much more, and she had to face the challenge of figuring out how it would all come together.

Not only did she work through these challenges, Sylvia was the recipient of this prestigious award.

Sylvia says it feels great to be finished. “I can’t believe it’s actually finished. I’ve never really thought of myself as an academic and certainly, with ‘life’ intruding the way it tends to, I never thought I would finish the darned thing. I’m just so lucky to have had a wonderfully supportive spouse and thesis committee (Dr. Carol Schick actually came out of retirement to help out) because they certainly didn’t have to do what they did.”

What excites her about her thesis, Sylvia says, “is that my findings have already been referenced to support work being done around reconciliation and the necessity of teaching *for* justice and more practically, *doing* it.”

Sylvia’s master’s thesis is called: Teachers’ Perceptions of Project of Heart, An Indian Residential School Education Project


The purpose of this study was to gain insight into how settler teachers took up an arts and activist-based Indian Residential School Commemoration Project called Project of Heart. More specifically, it sought to assess whether or not the research participants were led to transformation, demonstrated through disrupting “common sense” (racist) behaviours of teachers and students as well as through their engagement in social justice work that Project of Heart espouses.

Since 2007, Ontario school boards have been required by Ministry policy to teach the “Aboriginal Perspective” in their high school courses, yet at the time of the study (2010), there were still very few resources available for educators to do so. There were even fewer resources available to teach about the Indian Residential School era. Project of Heart was created by an Ontario teacher and her students in 2007 in order to address this egregious situation.

The study was guided by grounded theory methods and the findings suggest that while Project of Heart did not achieve “transformation” in its participants as assessed through teachers’ lack of completion of the social justice requirement, teachers indicated that both students and teachers benefited greatly because of the relevance of the learning.

Defended: April 2017

Thesis Committee

Supervisor: Dr. Marc Spooner
External Examiner:
Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and professor for the School of Social Work at McGill University
Thesis committee members:
Dr. Ken Montgomery, University of Windsor, Dean, Faculty of Education and Dr. Carol Schick, former Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Aboriginal Education

Read more about Sylvia and the Project of Heart here:


Pre-interns participate in treaty education

270 pre-interns, 10 OTC facilitators, 10 Elders, and 10 faculty and staff. Photo courtesy of Julie Machnaik

Before third-year pre-interns go into schools for their 3-week field experiences, they participate in extensive professional development. Treaty education is a significant part of their learning experience.

This fall (September 13),  three bus loads of pre-interns went to the Treaty 4 Gathering at Fort Qu’Appelle, and while there, experienced the Kairos Blanket Exercise along with Treaty 4 cultural activities.

Pre-interns at Treaty 4 Gathering. Photo courtesy of Julie Machnaik

Ten facilitators from the Office of Treaty Commissioners, 10 elders, and 10 faculty and staff worked with 270 pre-interns on September 23 and 24 at the University of Regina. Students were given opportunities to interact with Elders and received instruction on treaties and treaty education.

Pre-Intern Treaty Ed 2017

Place cursor over the photo above to scroll through photo gallery. (Photos courtesy of Instructor Julie Machnaik)

Twitter talk:

History of Indian residential schools in Saskatchewan ebook now available

The Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan ebook is a Project of Heart Saskatchewan resource for teachers published by the Faculty of Education, University of Regina.

This book extracts, reorganizes, and compiles the school-specific Saskatchewan elements of the NCTR reports and archived school files as well as incorporating other research and former student accounts that have been recorded and published online. It is an informative and accessible resource for teaching and learning about Indian residential schools in Saskatchewan.

Follow the link to DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan

Reconciliation Garden

In spring 2017, The Faculty of Education’s Indigenous Family Therapies Class (EPSY 870AB) in partnership with the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC) have planted a Project of Heart Reconciliation Garden.

The Objectives of this project in our class were:

• To present a culturally-competent counseling intervention by integrating Indigenous knowledge within the more modern ecopsychology approach;
• To encourage a three-way therapeutic alliance between counselor, client, and nature as co-therapist;
• To deconstruct the modern therapeutic “space” by promoting nature-based therapeutic interventions; and
• To identify gardening as a social justice approach.

We based our garden design around the Honouring Memories Planting Dreams

Celebrated in May and June, Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams invites individuals and organizations to join in reconciliation by planting heart gardens in their communities. Heart gardens honour residential school survivors and their families, as well as the legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Each heart represents the memory of a child lost to the residential school system, and the act of planting represents that individual’s commitment to finding their place in reconciliation. In 2016, more than 6500 hearts were planted in gardens across Canada.


For more information about the Reconciliation garden, please contact:

JoLee Sasakamoose –
John Klein –

Reposting from

Dave Nevill’s Sweat Lodge Experience

Dave Nevill

The following story was written by Dave Nevill (a career counsellor at Ituna School in the Horizon School Division and an Education graduate student) as a requirement for Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose’s Educational Psychology 824 course.  He entitled it, “First Nations Group Therapy: A Sweat Lodge Experience.” This story was submitted to Education News by Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose.

As the last vestiges of light shrunk from sight at the far side of the lodge, I could feel the warm embrace of shared humanity with the confines of the small, cramped space. As a relative newcomer to this ceremony and healing center, I was welcomed into the congregation; I did not feel alien, awkward, or foreign. The pitch darkness and intense heat surrounded me in its urgent grip and I began to feel a connection to something larger than myself, a sense of community, a healing presence, and an association with the wisdom of the Creator. I was drawn into the spiritual ritual as one of them as if in answer to the bundle of prayers and expressed gratitude echoing throughout the dark lodge. As the day drew closer that I would attend the sweat lodge at the First Nations Healing Center in Fort Qu’Appelle, my apprehension grew. This was not going to be my first sweat either. Having experienced four previous sweats fifteen years earlier at Muskeg First Nation Reserve, I had a very good idea what to expect. However, I was attending this sweat in a different community, with people I had never met, in a ceremony that I didn’t fully understand, in a situation definitely outside my comfort zone. As I later realized, this sweat proved to introduce me to a larger experience than I had previously been exposed to.

To alleviate my anxiety somewhat, I chose to call the Healing Hospital a couple of days before and find out the protocols for the event. I found out the location, time, and materials needed. I picked up a bag of oranges for my offering to the feast after the event and a carton of cigarettes for a deeper prayer offering during the ceremony. I didn’t know how to offer any of these items to the ritual, so some things would have to be left to learning on the spot. Upon my arrival prior to the event, I was met by Darla and Char who were also participating; they had found out where the sweat would take place and I followed them to the building, talking a little apprehensively. Several First Nations men were lounging casually outside the building and they eyed us curiously as we walked up. They responded to our approach with a friendly and welcoming demeanor, soon to be followed by introductions, handshakes, and some good-natured ribbing. I settled in to wait with them as my two companions entered the building to join the other women. The fire heating up the rocks crackled nearby.

I sat beside a man who turned out to be their spiritual elder, or knowledge keeper as he preferred to be called. After conversing for a while, he sensed that I was sensitive and somewhat knowledgeable about First Nation’s issues and he expressed his feelings about living conditions and treatment within Canada as our election approached. He was shocked that I had been relatively ignorant of residential school issues and abuse up to about two years ago; I suggested the white man wrote the history books to suit themselves.

The ceremony started with a sweet grass cleansing of ourselves and our prayer offerings. As I was unfamiliar with the proceedings, the knowledge keeper told me to do everything his buddy did and I would be okay; I watched him closely anyway for guidance to make sure I didn’t mess something up with the ceremony. I was surprised when the pipe was passed around the circle of men and it was given to me to participate. Maybe I was given the honor of smoking the pipe as I was making a tobacco offering for a prayer and this was the way for the smoke to carry my prayers to the Creator, according to their traditions. Never having smoked a piper before, I did the best I could and passed it on. Several of the men handled the pipe in a particular way after smoking it as if in prayer to the Creator.

A clipboard was passed around which we were all asked to sign and indicate our reasons for attending the sweat. Most people chose spiritual and ceremonial from the list including emotional, mental, physical and social realms. I went with the crowd and chose those as well, even though I would have liked to pick emotional and mental. At this stage of unfamiliarity, I didn’t want to stray too far from the norm and I didn’t necessarily come to the sweat to gain clarity on any personal issues. After the knowledge keeper did extensive prayers for several of the other men and women, he called me over and asked me what type of prayer I was looking for. Not sure I myself, I hesitated. He helped me out by suggesting a prayer of thanks and I quickly assented. I knelt by him and he spoke a prayer in Cree for me.

The first round of the sweat soon followed the prayers. After removing my shirt, I crawled into the far side of the sweat lodge in just my shorts and a towel over my neck, beside the knowledge keeper as he indicated. The lodge was about four feet high and encompassed half the room, in a circular shape, and was covered with an extensive layer of blankets. I waited in silent anticipation as the rest of the group of men came inside and some of the hot, glowing rocks from the fire were gently placed in the center container of the lodge. I could feel the heat they generated in the small space. Each rock was sprinkled with sweet grass to cleanse it as it was dropped into the pot. The women and children were the last to crawl into the cramped lodge and the blankets then were draped over the door. Pitch darkness descended over the small space and congregation, except for a faint glow from the rocks. The sweat ceremony was about to begin.

The knowledge keeper started the round by offering prayers for various members of the group, including the family, which sponsored the event and were attending. After each offered prayer, he would splash some water on the hot rocks in the center. There was a slight pause before the heat enveloped the others and me. A murmur of assent rose from the room in answer to the prayers, splashes and heat. He gave thanks to the Creator for answering their prayers and started singing in Cree. We were all asked to pray in our own way as part of the ceremony. Several songs and prayers followed the first, accompanied by more splashes and waves of heat. I remained quiet throughout the first round and just became a part of the group process. After about ten minutes, a call was made to open the doors and many people exited the lodge for a break from the heat. I remained in the lodge and just relaxed.

Subsequent rounds were led by different people, including one of the elder women, whom the men suggested would make it a very hot round. They all followed the same process, prayers, and offers of gratitude to the Creator, splashes and waves of heat. The heat became more intense in the later rounds and I was forced several times towards the end of the round to cover my head, shoulders and mouth to deal with the intense heat. I even tried to participate in the singing on the fourth round as I felt a part of the communal ritual. I’m sure I butchered the song but felt good about it anyway. I exited the lodge with many of the others at the end of the second, third and fourth rounds too as I needed a break from the heat as well. I would crawl back into the lodge with the other men as more glowing rocks were brought in and deposited in the middle container. Comments were made when a particular big rock was deposited; that was going to send off some real steam.

I was struck and awed by the perceived power of prayer that was deeply felt by the participants in the sweat. They truly believed that the Creator would intervene in their everyday lives if the right prayers were offered to him through this ritual sweat. The power of this belief had helped many members of the congregation overcome personal hardships, stress, and illness. I was also deeply impressed by the sense of community that pervaded the scene; these people were not alone. They were surrounded by their communal family who, by participating in the ritual with them, would support them to overcome their trials and become whole again.

This shared experience was evident in their conversations after each round, a certain kinship with each other: They were a part of something that made them whole as individuals. It was an experience of shared hardship, of a mutual connection through an activity that required some courage, mental fortitude, and physical endurance. Char mentioned afterward that she had birthed two children and that knowledge alone helped her endure the most difficult parts of the experience.

In a sense, the sweat lodge can become a powerful healing agent for any nation and any individual who is willing to participate in the collective experience and gain support and encouragement from family, friends, community and the Creator, through a sacred ritual that pulls participants outside their comfort zone. This type of communal belonging is obviously very special to these First Nation’s people. It speaks to who they are as a people; it is part of their identity. Many kids were at the sweat and it was obviously extremely important that the essence of the ritual be passed on to the children of the community. Three generations were represented in this lodge experience. One might think that maybe they would want to keep that ‘specialness’ to themselves to avoid contamination. But they don’t, and that is a truly amazing feature of these people.

I have been part of the Catholic community for many years as a non-believer and never once have I felt the same sense of belonging and openness to the heart of their ceremonies as I felt in my first sweat lodge in the Fort Qu’Appelle community. They opened up their ceremony to three outsiders with open arms and wrapped us up in their communal embrace like we were one of them. Granted, there were some suspicious glances from some, which you can hardly blame them for, considering what the white man has done to them and how they continue to be treated. There are some sexist aspects to the ceremony that some women would object to. Women had to cover their legs, were only allowed in the sweat after the men and couldn’t participate in the pipe ceremony.♠ But the First Nations people are truly forgiving and generous in that they invite us outsiders to participate with them in one of their most sacred rituals as if three hundred years of history is suspended for the moment. If I can feel the power of this group embrace, one who is not a believer and not a member of their community, what could this do for someone who is one of them and is a believer?

For counseling, the therapeutic benefits are palpable, especially for First Nations children and adults who can identify with the shared belief structure. The collective embrace of the community surrounding an individual in need, and drawing them into their collective, would have a very powerful healing and supportive component. I witnessed the power of the community in my initial sweat experience with them and that communal embrace is the key. I have a sauna at home, and a sweat without the community is just a good sweat. I could see the benefit for voluntary participation of any aged individuals who are experiencing grief, depression, anxiety, addiction or a crisis in their lives, particularly those individuals where community support and kinship is more important than personal disclosure and in-depth counseling.

I made an attempt to participate in the fifth cowboy round and as soon as I heard the huge splashes of water dumped on the rocks, I knew that this was a mistake. I crawled from the lodge under the blankets, gasping for air, desperately trying to cover my burning skin. Several of the others did the same. We had a good laugh over it. Another shared experience to talk about if I ever go back. Maybe it will give them something to talk about in successive sweats as well, the white guy who thought he could hack a cowboy round. Maybe they will have a good laugh over it, which surely can’t hurt. Following the sweat, there were several prayers over the food for the feast and then we all sat in a circle and dug in. The kids brought me food: vegetable and berry soup, bannock, cake, candy, drinks and fruit—a virtual never-ending banquet. They kept bringing it as fast as I ate it. I had to stop them and even take some of it home. One of the members joked that I wouldn’t need a midnight snack tonight, which was so true.

As I rose to leave, I gratefully acknowledged their generosity with handshakes all round to the men and thanks to the women. The knowledge keeper told me I should attend their “all men” sweat on Monday. I could continue with this communal experience if I wanted to. I traveled home in my soaking wet shorts and burned shoulders, content in my shared community experience and alignment with the Creator. Maybe I will go back on Monday…


♠Professor Note: The sexist aspects are really defined through a Western perspective and have that appearance when done so.  However, when one is taught the teachings of the power of women and their role, it isn’t sexism – more that our role is different.  However these teachings take a long time to learn and to understand.

#TreatyEdCamp 2.0: Bigger and Better

An astounding number of preservice and in-service educators (over 300!) gathered together on Saturday, October 1 to take advantage of a great opportunity: to learn about treaty education at #TreatyEdCamp 2.0. Treaty education is mandatory in Saskatchewan curriculum and #TreatyEdCamp is professional development delivered “by teachers for teachers,” allowing educators to learn about treaty and how to implement treaty education in their classrooms.

(L-R) Katia Hildebrand, Raquel Bellefleur, and Meagan Dobson, Co-Organizers of #TreatyEdCamp

Katia Hildebrandt, Meagan Dobson and Raquel Bellefleur co-organized this second annual #treatyedcamp with the help of UR S.T.A.R.S. and many volunteers and with financial support from the Faculty of Education and the Aboriginal Student Centre.

Before participants went off to concurrent sessions (27 presentations over 4 sessions this year), Mike Desjarlais sang and drummed a song of remembrance, a reminder to participants to think of their loved ones who have gone before them. Dr. Jennifer Tupper spoke on the importance and need for treaty education, reminding participants of the recent murder of 22-year-old Colten Boushie of the Red Pheasant Reserve, which highlighted the racism that is prevalent in Saskatchewan, “still touching us all.” Education about what First Peoples have gone through at the hands of government — broken treaty promises that resulted in such losses as the loss of language and culture, loss of children to residential schools, and loss of loved ones to intergenerational trauma effects– will help to make changes that honour treaty rights, and someday will hopefully eradicate the issue of children in foster care and youth in gangs.

Brad Bellegarde, a Regina hip-hop artist and journalist, brought the Keynote presentation, “Hip Hop is the New Buffalo” after a lunch of soup and bannock. Bellegard expressed his desire to see the smiles on the faces of First Nation youth as they find relevance, self-expression  and the ability to fight oppression through Hip Hop music. (See his video: He also showed a youtube to demonstrate how music can bridge cultural gaps, creating opportunities to collaborate in schools.  He encouraged teachers to ask about what they don’t know, just as he did when he went to Germany and Chile. “You’re teachers; you’re just like a big gang,” he said, “you can support each other.”

(See photo album by sliding cursor over the photo below and clicking on the arrow key)

#TreatyEdCamp 2016

If you couldn’t make a session, watch for the notes that will be posted for each session here: