KAMSACK — “It takes a lot of work to get here,” Chief George Cote of Cote First Nation, said during an education service agreement signing ceremony held at the Kamsack Comprehensive Institute on Oct. 11.
Much has happened since the last agreement was signed 40 years ago, especially the truth and reconciliation calls to action, Cote said, referring to the partnership with the Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) so that “western methods of education can be coupled with traditional teachings” which will help revive First Nation culture and language.
“We are at an understanding regarding what we can do together for a better understanding of each other and an end to racism in schools,” he said.
Cote said school principals are assuring top-notch education with the support of parents and grandparents and said the agreement will open doors to ensure First Nation culture and language within the GSSD curriculum.
“With the new agreement, children can look forward to and feel proud of who they are,” he said.
The ceremony, which was to have been held outside in front of the teepee that had been erected on the KCI grounds, was forced into the school’s gymnasium because of rain.
With Quintin Robertson, GSSD director of education, as the emcee, the ceremony began with a prayer offered by Vincent Cadotte, a Cote councillor and “knowledge keeper,” and a performance of a drum group headed by Robert Severight, a Cote councillor.
A member of the Cote education portfolio, Severight welcomed everyone to the “historic” ceremony and reminded everyone that Treaty 4 that was signed in 1874 had much to do with education of the children and the children yet to be born. He said the drum group would perform a flag song and then a victory song because the agreement is a victory.
The unity shown by the drum group signifies the unity needed for this agreement, Robertson said after Severight’s group concluded.
Dignitaries introduced, in addition to Chief Cote, Vincent Cadotte and Robert Severight, were Chief Isabel O’Soup of the Yorkton Tribal Council, Jaime Johnson, chair of the GSSD board, and Cote First Nation councillors Delvina Whitehawk, Brian Shingoose, Joseph Cote and Pamela Whitehawk.
Cote First Nation and GSSD staff attending included: Faith Watson, executive director of the Treaty Education Alliance; Valerie Cote, Education Co-ordinator for Cote First Nation; Mick Parmer, Superintendent of Schools for GSSD; Mark Lucas, KCI principal; Laura Reilkoff, KCI vice-principal; Karie Thomas, Victoria School principal; Jonas Cote, principal of Chief Gabriel Cote Education Complex; Jesse Armstrong and Clorice Delorme, Indigenous Student Success Consultants; Andrew Quewezance, cultural advocate for GSSD; Cliff Crane, Cultural co-ordinator for YTC (Yorkton Tribal Council) and GSSD; and Tiare Laporte, Indigenous student success lead for KCI and GSSD.
Thanking Vincent Cadotte for his prayer and remarks and Robert Severight for the drum songs, Chief Isabel O’Soup said that “there were no drums when I went to school.
“Now we are more aware,” O’Soup said. “It makes me proud.”
She commended the GSSD for its good efforts to educate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and offered “hats off” to the parents and teachers.
“Racism starts in the home,” O’Soup said, adding that she loved seeing the teepee on the school ground outside. “I was proud to see it and the children feel proud because it helps give them enthusiasm to learn.”
As chief of the six nations in the YTC, O’Soup commended those responsible for working to make things better and asked them to “keep up the good work.”
“We’re just beginning to understand the significance to the treaties,” Robertson said. “Further work needs to be done.”
Robertson said that the essence of the document being signed is about accountability of the GSSD and Cote First Nation and the responsibility of service providers.
“We will show up and do the work if criticized or praised,” he said.
Robertson joined Chief Cote, Delvina Whitehawk and Jaime Johnson as they each signed the agreement document.
All attending were thanked and everyone joined in a round dance as the drum group performed. A light lunch concluded the ceremony.