Sep 19, 2017
Posted in: SUNTEP
By James Oloo
Lori Pritchard is a published author, educator, award-winning educational administrator, and school principal. She is also an instructor in the teacher education programs at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University, and a graduate of Gabriel Dumont Institute’s Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP).
Lori took time during summer to share her experience with us. She pointed out that “When given the opportunity to share my personal story related to my work, I always share how grateful I am to the Gabriel Dumont Institute and the SUNTEP program. Aside from the multitude of professional opportunities that have been afforded to me as a result of receiving my B.Ed. and later my M.Ed., my time at SUNTEP changed my life in so many ways.”
She continued, “SUNTEP gave me the gift of pride. I got to learn about my Métis culture, including my own family history and contributions to Canada. The beautiful Indigenous students, families, Elders, and community members that I have met over the last 20+ years have taught me so much about myself and the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Canada and around the world. Many of these people have become my family and me theirs.” Lori noted that, “I get to help young people to learn more about their culture, and to be proud of who they are and where they come from.”
Lori is the Principal at Sir John A. Macdonald Jr. High School in Calgary where she uses her leadership to enhance Indigenous content in the curriculum. “For the first time in the 50 years of the school, we will be offering Indigenous Studies to our students in 2017-2018, and I will be team teaching the course to our grade 7 students.”
Lori, who is also a member of the Indigenous Strategy Working Group at the University of Calgary, started her teaching career at Kinistin Saulteaux First Nation in Saskatchewan. She has since worked as teacher and principal at Whitecap Dakota First Nation, principal of Piitoayis (Eagle Lodge) Family School, and Supervisor of Aboriginal Education at the Niitsitapi Learning Centre.
SUNTEP graduates are better equipped to soar and Lori’s work has been recognized by numerous awards. These include: Leadership Award (by Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, 2013); Canada’s Outstanding Principal (2013); Courage Award – First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education (Northwest Regional Learning Consortium, 2012); and Dr. Joseph Crowshoe Award – Aboriginal Education (University of Calgary, 2006). She has also received sashes, eagle feathers, shawls, and blankets from Elders, families, students, and community groups.
SUNTEP continues to be special to Lori and her family. Her late uncle John Richards, and cousins Raymond Pritchard, Val Pritchard, Sheila Aubichon-Pocha (current Head, SUNTEP Saskatoon), and Frank Aubichon are all SUNTEP graduates. Lori states that “My sister-friend Michelle Ranger, who has been my colleague at Calgary Board of Education and a true inspiration to me over the last ten years, is also a SUNTEP Saskatoon graduate.” Another cousin, Jennifer Pritchard, is a current SUNTEP student.
Asked about her teaching philosophy, Lori stated that “My teaching philosophy is simple. I believe that all students arrive at school each day as learners with life stories shaped by their wisdom, their curiosity, their gifts, and their family and culture.” She continued, “As a teacher, it is my job to learn about my students and their life stories in order to discover their strengths and their areas for growth as learners. Meeting my students where they are at is important for their success and to mine.”
When I asked Lori about her view regarding the importance of having Indigenous teachers in our classrooms, she reminisced about her personal experience. “The only thing that I remember learning about being Indigenous (Métis) when I was in elementary school was negative. Learning that my ancestors were savages, thieves, and drunks in my Social Studies class taught me to be ashamed of being Indigenous.” She pointed out that “This shame kept me from being myself and reaching my full academic potential. I didn’t want to be Indigenous, so I did everything that I could to keep that part of myself secret.”
“When I reached high school, I met my first Indigenous teacher, Mr. Gray, who taught us a history that was inclusive of a truth that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Mr. Gray shared his culture with us, and taught us about treaties, residential schools, oppression, and racism.” Lori noted that “It was while in Mr. Gray’s class that for the very first time, I felt pride as a Métis person. I can say with certainty that if it hadn’t of been for Mr. Gray, I would not have applied to the SUNTEP program.”
Lori averred that “Indigenous teachers in our classrooms are critical to enhancing the success of our Indigenous students. When students see positive representations of themselves in the classroom and are exposed to content that acknowledges and celebrates their Indigeneity, they are more likely to bring their whole self to the learning experience, which can only result in success.” As a teacher and administrator, Lori has employed strategies that have promoted success of her Indigenous students. “My time spent in the classroom as a teacher has been focused on designing learning tasks that offer opportunities for me to know my students, and for my students to learn more about themselves as Indigenous peoples.”
She reminds us that since the 2016 release of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) final report, “There has been a significant growth in the number of school districts wanting to engage in ‘Reconciliation through Education’ by way of Indigenization and decolonization. This can’t happen without Indigenous teachers in our classrooms and in school and system leadership positions.”
Lori, who has previously served on the Canadian Teachers’ Federation – Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Education, noted that she often tells her high school students about her own K-12 story and “share all of the gifts that SUNTEP has given me: Pride. Community. Family. Career. Leadership.”
A published author, Lori has presented on her teaching and leadership work in Canada, New Zealand, and Peru. When I asked about her future plans, she stated: “I love teaching and have thought often about pursuing my Ph.D. and may take that path soon. Maybe.” Lori graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree from SUNTEP Saskatoon in 1994.