That’s A Good Idea!
Effective Practices in First Nations and Métis Education
By Leah Dorion, Darren Prefontaine and Todd Paquin
SSTA Research Centre Report #00-10: 56 pages, $14
Do You Have a Good Idea? Click Here to Contribute
I. Effective Practices in First Nations and Métis Education -   Introduction  II. Educator’s Responses  Bibliography

This resource was developed by The Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research (GDI) for the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association. 

This document is a first step in gathering and disseminating effective practices, programs, activities and strategies that are effective in meeting the educational needs of First Nations and Métis students.  The purpose of this endeavour is to provide teachers, administrators and others interested in the education process with an avenue to share experiences that effectively increased understanding and awareness of Aboriginal cultures, issues and perspectives and which support Aboriginal students in achieving greater success and improved satisfaction in school.  In providing other educators with successful ideas, these initiatives may be broadly implemented in Saskatchewan’s schools. This report also anticipates that, as programs are shared, developed and put into practice, educators will continue to communicate their experiences and suggestions with the SSTA.  In this way, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students alike will benefit. 

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The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use.
Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is  available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


The first good idea was the decision by the SSTA to recognize the need for research in this area and to take the leadership role in ensuring it occurred.  Many thanks are extended to Barry Bashutski of the SSTA for his support and guidance.
The second good idea was the decision by the staff of the Gabriel Dumont Institute to work wholeheartedly on the project.  We recognized the importance of the work and accepted the challenge of collecting and collating the replies that formed the basis of this report.  Through their persistence and effort, a large number of responses were received.  The Project Team included Leah Dorion, Todd Paquin, Darren Prefontaine and Karon Shmon.  They were assisted by the GDI support staff, which included Lorraine Amiotte, Blanche Gehriger and Norma McKay.
The third good idea was the collective willingness of the respondents to share their work for the report.  This important piece forms the body of the report.  This project could not have been completed without the educators who submitted their good ideas, practices and strategies.  Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research and the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association are grateful to those people who shared their experiences.  The schools and organizations from which submissions were received include:
• Alexandra Elementary School, Moose Jaw 
• Balcarres School, Balcarres 
• Carlton Comprehensive High School, Prince Albert 
• Carrot River High School, Carrot River 
• Chief Mistawasis School, Leask 
• City Park Collegiate, Saskatoon 
• C.J. Houston School, Yorkton 
• Cross Cultural Ad-Hoc Committee, Moose Jaw 
• D'Arcy Elementary School, D'Arcy 
• Dr. Brass School, Yorkton 
• Dr. Isman Elementary School, Wolseley 
• Early Childhood Education, University of Regina Faculty of Education 
• Fairview Elementary, Yorkton 
• Father Gamache Memorial School, Fond du Lac 
• Father Porte Dene Memorial School, Black Lake 
• Fishing Lake N/K Band School, Wadena 
• Fort Livingston School, Pelly 
• Fort Qu'Appelle Elementary, Fort Qu'Appelle 
• Gordon Denny Community School, La Ronge 
• Grenfell Elementary School, Grenfell 
• Grenfell High School, Grenfell 
• Gull Lake Elementary, Gull Lake 
• Gull Lake School Division #76, Gull Lake 
• Hanley Composite School, Hanley 
• Hillside School, Estevan 
• Humboldt Collegiate, Humboldt 
• Indian Head School, Indian Head 
• Jubilee School, Meadow Lake 
• L.P. Miller Comprehensive School, Nipawin 
• Lestock School, Lestock 
• McCord School, McCord 
• Minahik Waskahigan School, Pinehouse Lake 
• North Valley High School, Lemberg 
• Northern Lakes School Division #64, Spiritwood 
• Northern Lights School Division #113, La Ronge 
• Pleasant Hill Community School, Saskatoon 
• Prince Albert Grand Council, Prince Albert 
• Prince Arthur School, Moose Jaw 
• Queen Mary Community School, Prince Albert 
• Rockglen School, Rockglen 
• St. Andrew School, Regina 
• St. Angela School, Saskatoon 
• St. George School, Saskatoon 
• St. Joan of Arc School, Regina 
• St. Mary's Community School, Saskatoon 
• St. Michael School, Moose Jaw 
• St. Michael's Community School, Prince Albert 
• Stobart Elementary School, Duck Lake 
• Tompkins School, Tompkins 
• Twin Lakes School, Buffalo Narrows 
• Valley View School, Beauval 
• Wesley M School, Muskowekwan Band No. 85, Lestock 
• Whitecalf Collegiate, Lebret 
Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the authors.

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I. Effective Practices in First Nations and Métis Education - Introduction

A strong philosophy in many First Nations and Métis communities is the collective notion that it takes a whole nation to educate a child.  With this philosophy in mind, the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research has formed a partnership with the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association in order to highlight some of the effective teaching practices in Aboriginal education occurring in Saskatchewan schools.  Our mutual concern for the education of the provinces' Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students necessitated the creation of this resource guide.

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1. Current Demographics

In Saskatchewan, current statistics and demographics indicate an increasing number of First Nations and Métis students in Saskatchewan schools.  Today, our teachers, schools divisions, school boards and administrators are adapting to these recent demographic trends.  Saskatchewan Education indicated that in 1996, 19 school divisions in the province had Education Equity programs.  Education Equity was designed to increase the number of Aboriginal students who complete Grade 12.  It is a comprehensive plan that emphasizes:

The percentage of Aboriginal students increased in 14 of these school divisions between 1989 and 1996, while the percentage of Aboriginal teachers increased in 12 of these school divisions.

The Regina Roman Catholic School Division stated their commitment to hiring as many Aboriginal teachers as possible to ensure that the number of teachers would reflect the percentage of Aboriginal students in the school division.  An equity report stated that the Regina Roman Catholic School Division’s long-term goal was to fill 8.2% of 509 teaching positions with qualified teachers of Aboriginal ancestry over the past ten years.  As of June 1997, the actual percentage of teachers of Aboriginal ancestry was 4.5%

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2. Research Methodology and Organization
The objective of this resource handbook was to identify effective practices in First Nations and Métis education in the K-12 system throughout Saskatchewan.  This report identifies what educators, schools and communities are doing to incorporate these practices.
Many stakeholders in education were asked to share their perspectives on key issues.  To this end, every Saskatchewan school division was faxed and/or e-mailed a short description of the project and forms on which they could share their good ideas.  We contacted 796 provincially funded schools and 76 band-controlled schools in this manner.  Phone calls were made to principals and administrators.  To encourage people involved directly in Aboriginal education to share their experiences, we distributed forms at the AWASIS conference on April 2 & 3, 1998.
The following resource guide is divided into a number of sections based on the various strategies used by educators to incorporate First Nations and Métis content and perspectives in their schools, programs and activities.  The major themes in the report include the following:

Participants were encouraged to share all effective practices, including both major and minor strategies.  The nature of the responses indicates there is a broad continuum of ideas currently being implemented and that the schools and communities are as diverse as the ideas they have shared.  It is our belief that growth and improvement can be achieved from each response.

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3. About the Responses
Where did the responses come from?  Most of the responses came from regions with a high number of Aboriginal students, while a minimal response was received from rural areas.  However, GDI received responses from elementary schools, community schools, high schools, school divisions and band-controlled schools.  The majority of responses came from elementary school teachers.  Few high school teachers responded.
We discovered some very positive responses from the community schools.   The original Community Schools Program was implemented in 1980 to provide a holistic, culturally affirming program to help Aboriginal children who face barriers to learning. Since that time, these schools have provided First Nations and Métis students with a learning environment and programming that respects and reflects their histories, experiences, and educational needs.
Community schools have provided innovative, caring and effective responses to the learning needs of inner city students in Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert.    The Won Ska Cultural School in Prince Albert has a great deal of success managing a culturally relevant school for First Nations and Métis students.  It is a uniquely governed school that emphasizes Aboriginal culture.  Additionally, the school specializes in delivering GED programs and the integration of educational services with employment and on the job training.

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4. Equity Issues
What is meant by equity?  Equity is the fair and equal treatment of all members of our society who are entitled to participate in and enjoy the benefits of an education.   Equity involves creating a productive environment and a shared vision conducive to fostering the development of an inclusive and collaborative education process that, in turn, defines and enriches resources.  Equity also means proactive leadership that encourages all community members to engage in the education of the community’s children.
Many positive changes are helping to achieve equity in the education system.  Some of our schools are making substantial efforts to include Aboriginal students and the community.  For instance, in the North Battleford Public School Division, the Comprehensive High School has an annual Pow-wow and Elders and community people regularly visit the classrooms.  In addition, the school division employs a social worker to make regular home visits. Childcare services are provided in some schools to enable parents to attend school meetings and parent-teacher interviews.
The Northern Lakes School Division created an educational sub-division for the Witchekan Lake First Nation to ensure that the First Nation had a representative on its board of education.   Other school divisions, such as the Kamsack School Division, have a decentralized professional development fund for teachers to learn more about Aboriginal cultures.  The Lands West School Division has joint in-servicing with the Chief Little Pine First Nation’s School and a professional development fund is used to inform teachers about Aboriginal culture.
However, of the 18 school divisions listed in a 1997 Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission Report, each had a low number of Aboriginal teachers vis a vis the number of Aboriginal students compared to the number of non-Aboriginal teachers relative to non-Aboriginal students. The Biggar School Division reported two Aboriginal teachers for 178 Aboriginal students (1:89 ratio).  In the Saskatoon Public School Division, there were 56 Aboriginal teachers for 2559 Aboriginal students (1:46 ratio).   In the Northern Lights School Division, there are 78 Aboriginal teachers for 3980 Aboriginal students (a ratio of 1:51).  However, 72.7% of non-teaching staff and 83.4% of support staff in Northern Lights School Division are of Aboriginal ancestry.
Many in the province's Aboriginal communities are concerned that there are too few Aboriginal teachers in the schools.  They feel those that are hired are often expected to design and deliver Aboriginal curricula for entire schools and school divisions.  This concern is highlighted in numerous Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission documents. One solution would be to hire more qualified Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal resource people.  Our report shows that involvement from the Aboriginal communities can help alleviate the situation.

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5. Elimination of Racism
As a society we can make inroads to eliminate all forms of intolerance. Education and communication are the most effective means we have to break down the walls of racism.  Non-racist education integrates the perspectives of Aboriginal and minority groups into an education system and its practices.   The Regina Catholic School Division has anti-racism seminars for its students, and the Education Equity Department offers staff development for its teachers.     This project shows a great commitment to cross-cultural training, non-racist education and staff in-service in some Saskatchewan schools.  However, this report also indicates that in many parts of Saskatchewan, especially rural areas, there are no cross-cultural programs.

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6. Teaching Methods and Philosophy
Education means many things to different people. A balanced approach, involving the skills and support of teachers, Elders, community members and parents is congruent with traditional Aboriginal education.  Utilizing the entire community to educate children emerges as one of the most effective teaching practices revealed by this report.
The participation of Elders and other members of the Aboriginal communities within and beyond the classroom enriches Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal world-views and methods of learning.  As a result, Elders programs are currently underway in some schools.  The involvement of Aboriginal resource people in school programming has also enhanced many teachers’ confidence in delivering Aboriginal content and perspectives to their students.  In developing this report, it became clear that the community must be involved in the school to ensure that our children receive the best education possible.
Many Saskatchewan teachers have endeavoured to incorporate Indigenous heritage into the general curricula for the benefit of all students.  Their labours are both interesting and innovative.   The Grace Adam Metawewinihk archaeological project at St. Mary's Community School in Saskatoon is a case in point.  This program provides an opportunity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to work on an archaeological site containing both historic and pre-European contact artifacts.  The project’s success is directly linked to the involvement of Elders and community members with the students, teachers, archaeologists and volunteers.
In the Gull Lake School Division, Native Studies and Social Studies teachers instruct non-Aboriginal students about the contributions that Aboriginal people have made to Saskatchewan’s and Canada’s development and settlement.  However, a disappointing trend was observed when we contacted schools that have few or no Aboriginal students.  In many cases, there were no "special" teaching programs emphasizing Aboriginal culture.  This was a trend observed in both urban and rural areas.
This observation leads us to believe that there is a general lack of understanding about the benefits such programs bring to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students alike.  The Province’s First Nations and Métis Education Policy is meant to benefit all students, supporting the belief that an increase in knowledge, awareness and acceptance of First Nations and Métis peoples will help students accept and value diversity.  In particular, non-Aboriginal students who have little or no interaction with Aboriginal people are at a greater risk of basing their opinions of Aboriginal people on popular and, in most cases, erroneous stereotypes.

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7. Curriculum Issues
In the May, 1998 STF Bulletin, then-Education Minister Pat Atkinson indicated that Aboriginal people will comprise one-third of Saskatchewan’s population in less than 50 years.  They currently make up approximately one-eighth of the population.  Atkinson stated that the education community must recognize this major demographic shift and do better to address the associated needs.  She claimed that First Nations and Métis content could no longer be viewed as an add-on to the core curriculum; rather, it must be accepted as an integral part of the core curriculum.
Saskatchewan Education research identified that slightly more than three-quarters of Grade 8 and 9 teachers incorporated First Nations and Métis perspectives and content as an aspect of Core Curriculum.   The Effective Practices project supports this research.  Numerous respondents were eager to share their practices that utilize positive and innovative methods to this end.
The Biggar School Division reported that, in Grade 9 Social Studies, about 20% of the content is Aboriginal. The teachers discuss Aboriginal history, languages, cultures and current issues.  In the same school division, Native Studies 10 was implemented in Cando School to offer more First Nations and Métis content.   The Prince Albert Comprehensive School Division ensures that 50% of its resource centre budget goes toward the purchase of Aboriginal materials.
Awasis is a special subject council of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation.  Its primary focus is to support those working with First Nations and Métis students.  The annual conference draws over 1,000 people and provides sessions in which educators share good ideas such as those included in this report.
The provincial core curriculum has been expanded and up-dated to include a considerable amount of Aboriginal content, which is to be integrated into the general curriculum.  On August 1997, The Native Studies Teachers’ Association put forward a proposal to develop a formal organization to support the discipline of Native Studies at the secondary school level.  In addition to this group of enthusiastic teachers, many individuals and collectives are taking a proactive role to ensure that First Nations and Métis education issues are addressed in today’s schools. As a result of these steps, Saskatchewan schools saw an increase in the offerings of Native Studies 10, 20, and 30.  As of April 1998, 60 Saskatchewan schools and 30 band-controlled schools offered Native Studies courses.
Many of the responses received have indicated that communities and schools are acknowledging the importance of instruction in First Nations languages.  Aboriginal peoples are concerned at the alarming rate at which children are losing their indigenous languages.   This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in urban areas.
Most young, urban First Nations students can no longer speak Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Assiniboine, Dakota or Lakota.  Similarly, the majority of Métis children are unable to speak Michif.  Many Elders and academics believe that a culture cannot survive without its language; as a result, any loss of language is a threat to the culture.  Some Saskatchewan schools are prioritizing the development of curricula and resources for Aboriginal language programs.  For instance, the Northern Lights School Division and various First Nations schools have done much good work regarding Aboriginal language retention programs.
The Muskowekwan Band Education Council, the Cupar School Division and the Lestock School have implemented a cooperative “Elders in Residence Program”.  Grants from the Indian and Métis Education Development program (IMED) have helped in the continuance of this program, as well as the establishment of Saulteaux language instruction.  In addition, Aboriginal curriculum development, cultural awareness programs, home-school and youth liaison programs and a safe-school project are contributing to the survival and development of language and culture.

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8. Conclusion
On behalf of the Gabriel Dumont Institute and Saskatchewan School Trustees Association, we want to extend an enormous thank-you to all who shared their ideas and special projects.  In the future, the SSTA will place this material and other incoming submissions on their website located at   In turn, the Gabriel Dumont Institute will also place this report on its website located at This sharing experience may develop into an ongoing project to serve as a place for educators to communicate effective practices to those interested in First Nations and Métis education issues.

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II. Educators’ Responses

Teachers and administrators submitted numerous responses to the Effective Practices in First Nations and Métis Education project.  The variety of responses suggests that educators are taking proactive and innovative steps to ensure that students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, are exposed to First Nations and Métis content and perspectives in their schools and classrooms.  These submissions were solicited over a short period in early 1998 and reflect what we consider to be a small portion of the progressive ideas being implemented in Saskatchewan schools.
For the sake of space and simplicity, responses have been clustered into broad categories.  Given the multifaceted nature of the responses, many fit into more than one category.  We have attempted to place such responses into all appropriate categories.  Readers looking for suggestions are encouraged to review each section, not as an isolated grouping of ideas but, rather, as part of an interrelated network of good ideas.  The categories under which the responses have been grouped include:

Do You Have a Good Idea?

Educators are encouraged to continue submitting responses to the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association.  In this way, you have an opportunity to update and inform others about effective practices in First Nations and Métis Education.  These can be sent by:

You can then enter the pertinent information about your successful program, activity or strategy. No idea is too big or small, and the SSTA welcomes any details you can provide.  These practices will be added to the SSTA website, where visitors searching for effective ideas can benefit from your experiences and innovations!

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1. Community Involvement
Many schools across the province utilized the skills and knowledge of Elders and Aboriginal resource people, the input of parents, and the skills of people involved in cultural and heritage organizations.  Their involvement has provided numerous opportunities for students to gain a greater awareness of First Nations and Métis culture, skills and values. This section has been divided into three areas of involvement - that of Elders, parents and other community members.

a. Involvement of Elders

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b. Involvement of Parents

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c. Involvement of Other Community Members

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2. Cross Cultural Experiences
Teaching staff and students have participated in events or activities that have helped provide a deeper understanding of First Nations and Métis culture, beliefs, practices and contemporary issues. These activities also provide members of the Aboriginal communities with opportunities to learn more about what is happening in the school systems in an open and sharing environment.  These cross-cultural experiences include both classroom activities and participation based activities, and were found to benefit students, staff and community members alike.

a. Participation-based Experiences

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b. Classroom or Fieldtrip Experiences

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3. Curriculum Content, Resources and Development
Educators and resource developers have increased Aboriginal content and perspectives in curricula and materials to provide greater insight into the contributions Aboriginal peoples have made to Canada’s history and development, and to teach students about the various cultures.  Positive steps are also being taken to directly involve First Nations and Métis people in curriculum and resource development.  Not only does this more accurately reflect the history and heritage of Saskatchewan and Canada, it has the effect of motivating and bolstering the self-esteem of Aboriginal students.

a. Increasing First Nations and Métis Content and Perspectives

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b. Participation in Curriculum and Resource Development

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4. Critical Thinking Activities

The utilization of critical thinking activities is an effective instructional strategy when incorporating First Nations and Métis content and perspectives in curriculum.  This helps both the student and teacher examine their biases, their worldview, and critically examine resources and gain perspective on the context in which information was gathered and recorded.  Critical thinking skills can be honed in discussions and through participating in Aboriginal cultural events.

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5. Language Instruction, Activities and Resources

Schools and teachers are taking initiatives to incorporate resource materials written in Aboriginal languages in their curriculum, develop their own Aboriginal language resources and programs, or invite resource people to introduce and teach Aboriginal languages.  In this way students have the opportunity to maintain or learn their Aboriginal languages, or be introduced to the languages spoken by Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal groups.  This fosters an awareness of the linguistic diversity in the province and how important language is to the preservation of culture.  Responses dealing with Aboriginal languages have been broken into three sections – language activities, language instruction and language resources.

a. Language Activities

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b. Language Instruction

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c. Language Resources

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6. Literacy Activities and Programs

Educators are endeavouring to provide students and community members with opportunities to make reading more fun and interesting as a means to increase overall literacy.  This includes involving students, parents and other community members in the development of materials, participating in classroom activities and creating increased interest in reading.

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7. School Trips and Extracurricular Activities

School trips and extracurricular activities are effective means of supplementing course work and providing deeper insight into cultures and lifestyles. As well, the active and experiential learning often entailed through these programs is part of traditional Aboriginal education.  These responses have been divided into two sections – activities and trips.

a. Activities

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b. Trips

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8. Traditional Skills Activities
Some schools and teachers have been implementing activities that have successfully stimulated interest and pride in traditional Aboriginal knowledge and skills.  In many cases, they combine interesting or unique curriculum activities with community involvement and/or cross-cultural experiences.  They succeed in meeting the educational and cultural needs of the students while providing a fun learning environment and utilizing local resource people.

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9. Transition Programs, Partnerships and Student Services

Educators and community members have identified the need to design and implement programs that meet the needs of Aboriginal students who are having difficulty with conventional programs.  These programs and services are oriented, primarily, for students who are at risk of leaving school or who are attempting to re-enter the education system. They deal with the need for culturally relevant programming that is bolstered by involvement of family and community members to provide opportunities for students to complete their education and gain relevant life skills.  The programs often address the emotional, physical and spiritual development of the students, not just intellectual development.

a. Transition Programs

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b.   Partnerships and Student Services

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