Building personal skills that empower Indigenous students toward leadership is the goal of Bedford Road Collegiate's Student Indigenous Council and the Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation.
The council's Leadership in Action initiative received a Programs of Excellence grant from the foundation during the 2018-19 school year to help support its work in engaging students as active members and leaders within their school and wider community.
"The impact of this year's experiences on the spirit, mind, emotions and the body of these students cannot be fully measured as its impact will be felt for many years to come," teacher Jacqueline Helmen wrote in the project's final report. "I can confidently say that the grant has contributed to the growth of these students as many of the opportunities provided would not have happened without the financial support provided by the foundation. It truly has made all the difference for these students."
Developed by Nahanni Olson, Bedford Road's Indigenous student advocate, the initiative saw students become involved in activities such as leadership course, collaboration with the student-led One Thunderous Voice e-journalism project and opportunities to learn from and interact with a wide range of Indigenous leaders and role models with the Saskatoon community.
Olson's guidance and mentorship, combined with the SPS Foundation's $1,780 financial contribution, was a transformative experience for students involved in the leadership initiative.
"I have seen students be empowered to see themselves as leaders and who actively seek opportunities to raise awareness and promote reconciliation. For many, they have courageously stepped out of their comfort zone to invite their Indigenous and non-Indigenous peers to the task of seeking reconciliation within our school," Helmen wrote.
The foundation's funding was used to support a project where the students created a mural around the theme of legacy. The students worked with Cree artist Ray Keighley to develop their ideas and reflect the ideals of reconciliation at Bedford Road in the form of a historical view.
Non-Indigenous students were invited to meet with the council to seek opportunities for safe and open dialogue, and then to co-construct a piece of artwork that would symbolize and acknowledge the past with a hopeful look to the future. In preparation, students learned extensively about the role of colonial worldview and its impact on Indigenous cultures, in particular the effects of residential schools.
"The talking circle at the legacy mural project had a big impact on me. I was able to hear everyone's stories and voices, it was very emotional," said Grade 12 student Jocelyn Chief.
Added student Aidan Crockett: "When we had Elder Linda Young come in for our English 30 class it had a big impact on me and my experience all together with the legacy mural project. It gave me more insight and a better understanding as to why we were doing what we were doing."
The funding provided by the SPS Foundation also supported a retreat at Wanuskewin Heritage Park where students participated in cultural programs with the goal of building relationships and deepening the understanding of their identities as Indigenous people.
Bedford Road's Indigenous Student Council provides opportunities for Indigenous students to participate in activities and events that are meaningful and representative of their experiences. The students involved create the goals and ideas for the events and activities they participate in and facilitate. As part of that learning they have the chance to:
- meet with and learn from community mentors;
- build a cohesive team of student leaders;
- Design and implement events in their school and school division that build awareness, provide opportunities for dialogue, and empower students to find their "voice" on issues;
- Network and collaborate with fellow Following Their Voices high schools to build a community of Indigenous student leaders across the system.
"The council is a place that students can come and participate whenever and however they feel most comfortable. In this way we are allowing students who have poor attendance and are disengaged from the school experience to find a meaningful place and experience at school," Helman explained. "For the students who are actively engaged in school activities, it is providing a forum for them to be empowered to make bigger changes in the school such as by putting on the Orange Shirt Day assembly and changing their classroom environments."
During the 2018-19 academic year council members were involved with a wide range of opportunities and events including: a leadership retreat with other Saskatoon Public Schools' students, Canada Roots Exchange, a school sweat, Orange Shirt Day assembly, family games night, Bedford Road Invitational Tournament, Grade 8 open house, the school's feast and round dance, and the Voices of Youth Conference.