WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Leona Carter told students she discovered 'life is a journey of school.'
EDMONTON – "Education is our buffalo," was a phrase shared by Leona Carter, keynote speaker at the annual Wahkotowin Society's students' luncheon.
The phrase is often used by First Nations elders to signify the importance of education to their communities.
"A long time ago, as aboriginal people, it was the buffalo that sustained us in every aspect of our lives. We no longer have the buffalo, so what is going to sustain us now?
"It's our education. You can lose friendships, you can lose material stuff, but your education dies with you. No one can ever take that away from you," said Carter.
On National Aboriginal Day, June 21, aboriginal students received recognition for their achievements. The teachers' pride in their students was evident at the awards ceremony, held at the University of Alberta's Faculty Club.
Anne Fierheller, a teacher at Louis St. Laurent School, spoke highly of Tineta Rain for her personal qualities and dedication. Rain was one of 31 students from various Edmonton Catholic Schools who received awards for improving their performances in school and in the community over the past year.
"Every question that I asked, Tineta would sit back and didn't ponder it. But when she did put her hand up, which was often enough, the intellect and the thought put into her answers went beyond the class," said Fierheller.
Many of the award recipients were accompanied by their principals or parents. Students were lavished with words of praise from their teachers during the three-hour luncheon. Native police officers, doctors and other professionals attended the event to show the award nominees that success is achievable.
The award recipients were excellent in attendance, attitude and self-motivation. A common thread was their resilience, overcoming obstacles that blocked their success in school and other endeavours.
Most students, such as Caleb Bastien, Ron Biggs, Zachary Roote, Jarrett Cardinal and Georgia Hajduk, were unanimous selections at their schools.
Some students were lauded for excellence in activities outside of academics, including Megan Leween in cooking and basketball, Baylee Giroux in art and music, Dayna Ward in drama, and Shani Berezowich in public speaking.
Students Barbara Ann Jeffrey-Russo, Diandra Whiteman and Sabrina Day did not let mothering a child stand in the way of their educations, juggling time between their schoolwork and the responsibility of raising a child.
Their attitudes are far different from what Carter experienced growing up on Onion Lake First Nation. Going to residential school for 10 years, the aboriginal students were never urged to attend school past Grade 8. For Carter, high school was simply a place to play basketball, but not to excel academically.
However, she discovered that "life is a journey of school." No matter how much we learn, we find that we do not know very much and there is always more knowledge to be attained.
At age 40 Carter went to university and earned a bachelor of arts. While struggling to get through her studies, her late grandmother appeared to her during her meditations, and said, "You can do it. You just have to be determined."
Working hard, refusing to quit, and pushing through the difficulties made her a better person. Today she is a member of the U of A Senate and is director of the City of Edmonton's aboriginal relations office.
"You have to be able to walk in both worlds, to be comfortable in both worlds. It has been my culture that has given me the grounding that I need. Our spiritual practices, our ceremonies that we do, that is what has allowed me to do the kind of work that I have done in what I call the other world," said Carter.
"This education gap is something that should concern all Canadians, as we know education is critical to aboriginal people for the same reason it's essential for other Canadians," said Dr. Daniel McKennitt, the master of ceremonies.
"It inspires young people, it opens doors and provides hope for a better future."