Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 6, 2006
Catholic school makes room for native spirituality
Principal says students are more serious about their education
By BILL GLEN
"We use an holistic way of instructing the children with traditional knowledges and realities."
The similarities between Catholicism and native traditions and processes are evident, he said.
"For example, we believe Catholicism and native spirituality are equal," Richardson said. "We don't see one being more important and we don't see them being entwined. We do see them over-lapping at times."
In their monthly liturgical celebrations, the school uses the Catholic rite but they bring in native spirituality in the methods of smudging and the prayers to the Creator.
"Whatever medicine we are using is no different than the incense burning in church. An elder tells a legend story like the Gospel and homily. There is a closing celebration where everyone greets each other like 'Peace be with you.'"
There is respect for both, Richardson said.
"In our cultural traditions, we have healing circles, prayer circles and sacred sharing ceremonies that involve native spirituality where spirits of the grandfather and grandmother are honoured, asking them to take prayers through the medicines used, up to Creator - God," he said.
"Our mission is that children are special gifts from God. We use an holistic way of instructing the children with traditional knowledges and realities to create, prepare and inspire them to see God in themselves and love one another."
Richardson said the children consistently feel better about themselves because they are meeting the goals of their educational plan. There is also a commitment by the parents to have their children in the cultural and language program.
Richardson has initiated discussions with Edmonton Catholic Schools for the cultural and language school program to continue for high school students in the district. He would like to see Ben Calf Robe expanded to include Grades 10-12.
"We certainly have a vested interest in having the children stay here," Richardson said. "We have instructors here who have 400-year-old teachings. That is very hard to replicate."
As it stands, the district brings education and counselling to its high schools through Aboriginal learning services.
"We have pushed the idea that kids should be able to walk from their home to their neighbourhood school and any Aboriginal services they might require is brought to them rather than having to travel somewhere else. The exception is Ben Calf Robe," said Doug Nelson, director of Aboriginal learning services.
He said growth of the Aboriginal population in Edmonton is extraordinary as more families are moving to the city. Aboriginal learning services is expanding its programs in an attempt to keep pace.
"St. Francis of Assisi (K-6) has a Cree bilingual program that began two years ago, where there are 140 self-identified children as First Nations, Metis or Inuit. We are looking at a Cree bilingual program at Our Lady of Peace where 66 students have self-identified themselves as First Nations, Metis or Inuit."
Aboriginal learning services has representation in 56 of the 86 Catholic schools - available to 90 per cent of all Aboriginal students in the district. The purpose is to connect with students who might be feeling isolated, encouraging them to continue with their education, graduate and be successful.
The recently completed Rainbow Spirit pilot project undertaken by Edmonton Catholic Schools and Alberta Learning revealed how providing integrated Aboriginal education is a huge benefit to the students.
"We have a lot of work to do but we are on the right track," Nelson said.
Richardson says staff at Ben Calf Robe is dedicated to building resiliency skills in the children so that school is considered a safe place for them where they can learn.
He often tells the students that life is about life-long learning. And if you dream something, dare to do it.
"Our students are leaving here now and becoming more successful," he said.
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