Indigenous student takes pride in his culture after winning university award

“I was able to do so many things here at school, connect with my culture and teach it to my classmates.” It’s really very important for me to be able to share my culture like that’

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Not too long ago, 18-year-old Keegan Buffalo sat with his grandparents, listening to the stories of their time in residential schools and the trauma they endured, forced to reject their culture and identity.

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Two generations after this dark period in Canadian history, the grade 12 student from the Tsuut’ina Nation spent his high school years displaying a deep sense of pride in his Indigenous roots, forging a path to academic success and to be chosen as one of 12 province-wide winners of the Honoring Spirit Indigenous Student Award.

“I was able to do so much here at school, connect with my culture and teach it to my classmates,” Buffalo said, shy, soft-spoken and thoughtful about every word.

“It’s really very important for me to be able to share my culture like that.”

Buffalo gives credit to the school’s diverse learning support program, providing spaces and instructional supports for students with unique or special learning needs.

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A graduate with good grades, Buffalo was accepted into the University of Calgary’s urban studies program this fall, hoping to become an architect.

“It has been so meaningful to be able to express my identity here at school, to be able to talk about my culture and my Aboriginal history. »

A decorated fancy dancer, Buffalo has also performed for his school in several projects of its Native Studies courses, now offered as three-year electives in most high schools, teaching history and language. cultural appreciation.

Created by the Alberta School Boards Association, the Honoring Spirit: Indigenous Student Awards celebrate outstanding First Nations, Métis and Inuit students nominated by members of their educational communities.

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The winners, who stretch across the province to Fort McMurray and Fort Macleod, demonstrate exemplary leadership, courage and commitment to Indigenous culture and their educational journeys, inspiring teachers and their peers while respecting the free will of others to do the same in their own way.

The ASBA received over 270 nomination letters and unique applications from across the province.

“The determination, resilience and community spirit these students have shown is a great role model to inspire others,” said Marilyn Dennis, president of the Alberta School Boards Association and trustee of the Calgary Board of Education.

“I am both humbled and honored to recognize this year’s winners, celebrate their accomplishments and learn from their ability to excel and lead.

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Michelle Hayden, a diverse learning teacher at St. Mary’s High School, said she nominated Buffalo for her strong leadership and commitment to academic achievement.

“Keegan has always been very shy, very quiet, but also very hardworking. He walks into the classroom and just sits down, concentrates on his studies and sets such a good example for the other students.

Hayden said her diverse learning classroom — a large, welcoming space with huge windows and views of the poplar trees and the city’s downtown — has been transformational.

Students with diverse learning needs – whether they have learning disabilities, behavioral issues or even a broken arm in a cast – can use the space to study, take exams or simply seek support from peers and teachers.

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“It’s a place they know they can come to anytime, for any kind of support or extra help they might need.”

Buffalo says he often wrote essay exams in space, sitting at the window and “feeling inspired” by the serenity.

“It’s just such a quiet space where you can get help with anything. I would often tell the kids in my other classes about it,” Buffalo said.

Keegan Buffalo, a grade 12 student from Tsuut'ina Nation who attends Saint Mary's High School, poses for a photo with his mother Billie-Dee Buffalo, left, and teacher Michelle Hayden on a bridge over the Elbow River on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.
Keegan Buffalo, a grade 12 student from Tsuut’ina Nation who attends Saint Mary’s High School, poses for a photo with his mother Billie-Dee Buffalo, left, and teacher Michelle Hayden on a bridge over the Elbow River on Tuesday, July 5, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Hayden, who has now officially retired after 45 years of teaching, admits the school system has come a long way to support Indigenous students.

“There was a time when these children and their needs were ignored.

“Aboriginal students, by nature, are often quite shy and soft-spoken. They don’t make demands or voice their needs very often.

“So they were very easy to ignore, what we now know is only harmful, it’s racism.”

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But today, especially in the past year, as Indigenous issues come to the fore after the discovery of unmarked burial sites in residential schools, Hayden says schools have been forced to come to terms with the true history of the Canada and its difficult reality.

“We talked about it, we learned about it all year, and Keegan was a big part of it,” Hayden said, noting that students put ribbons on the school fence to honor Indigenous children. as part of the “Every Child Matters” campaign.

“If you can talk about that stuff. . . that’s when you accept it, and that’s when these kids can really feel that sense of pride and identity.

In addition to his ASBA recognition, Buffalo has also been nominated for six Aboriginal Awards within the Calgary Catholic School District, winning this year’s Community and Cultural Involvement Award for his leadership, volunteerism and mentorship.

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CCSD officials say they have made great strides in supporting Indigenous students, making Indigenous education a high priority.

“The goals of this priority include bringing Indigenous history, culture and perspectives into classrooms to integrate learning outcomes specific to Indigenous foundational knowledge, nurturing relationships with communities and supporting our Indigenous students in their academic success and sense of belonging,” said CCSD spokesperson Joanna. French.

French added other ways CCSD supports Indigenous students and integrates Indigenous learning:

  • Closely monitor the learning journeys of Indigenous students by regularly checking in with all schools, especially high schools, to contribute to successful graduation and create lifelong learners.
  • Land-based teaching opportunities and helping school communities create traditional medicine gardens.
  • Enhance fine arts programming by using Indigenous artists to provide students with hands-on experiences with beading, dancing, drumming and other Indigenous cultural activities.
  • Use the medicine wheel domains (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual) to frame the support offered to Indigenous students and families to create a strong sense of belonging.
  • Provide access to Indigenous consultants, welfare workers and cultural liaisons.
  • Add more Indigenous literature to school learning centres.

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