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Saskatoon Cree teacher immerses students in their culture

Students have close encounter with buffalo at Wanuskewin.
Trevor Iron, top left, joins in the drumming and singing with students.

WANUSKEWIN — Trevor Iron believes everything is connected on our planet, just as Indigenous Peoples have seen and felt their link to nature and the environment for thousands of years.

That’s why the Nêhiyâwiwin Cree language and culture program teacher at Wâhkôhtowin School (formerly Confederation Park School) immerses his students in the culture and tradition of Indigenous ancestors.

“It’s important for our students to learn the history, culture and traditions of the First Nations like the Plains Cree peoples, for them to learn what life was like back then before the first contact with Europeans,” Iron told

He welcomes the Pre-Contact Literacy and Art Project sponsored by the Brownlee Family Foundation in co-operation with Saskatoon Public Schools and the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which offers students experiences in learning the history of Indigenous people.

The project culminated with an art exhibit of works made by Grade 7 and 8 students and a cultural program Tuesday at the Wanuskewin amphitheatre where Indigenous dances and songs were performed.

“There’s so much stuff that actually went on here and it is important that they experience these things, like seeing the buffaloes, the exhibits and walking the trails. I know they enjoyed our visits here,” added Iron.

He told a story from one of their field trips in October last year at Wanuskewin when he managed to entice the herd of the bison to come closer to them at the raised viewing platform across the visitor’s centre.

“We were done with our sessions early and our bus wasn’t going to get here until 2:30 p.m. So, I told the kids to go to the platform to see the buffaloes. As we were walking toward the viewing platform, I can see that all of the kids are already there waiting,” said Iron.

“I was walking with one of my students and as we got nearer, I told her. ‘Listen, I will call those buffaloes.’ I could see in her face the hesitation, thinking that I’m crazy. So, I stopped and yelled out: astam-ek! Which means come here, I called them out.”

The students who were already at the viewing platform thought their teacher was calling them back, so they turned around and looked at Iron, They knew the word astam-ek and thought he was calling, but his command was directed to the bison that can be seen hundreds of feet from the viewing platform.

And the unthinkable happened. Suddnely they saw dust rising from the ground and the herd running toward the viewing platform.

“The kids saw the lead buffalo, the matriarch of the group, who is guiding everyone. Then the younger ones and older ones, then the big bulls at the back protecting the entire herd. The kids were surprised to see them up close. As they came, they stopped right in front of us,” said Iron.

“They were doing all kinds of stuff, things that you can only watch in shows like Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. They were stomping their hooves on the ground, butting their heads and rolling in the dirt. They were playing around and doing everything people wanted to see.”

He added that at first the kids were frightened, seeing the herd running toward them, but he assured them that they would stop charging.

“I told the kids that they went here to show you what you guys want to see. All those feelings and thoughts, they sent to the buffaloes. That’s why they were doing all those things that they wanted to see.”

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