Feb 10, 2020
In traditional Michif pedagogy (ways of teaching), the classroom was the kitchen, the Old Ones were the teachers and the land was the textbook. From the buffalo hunt, to the road allowance era, the skills we needed to survive and thrive as a people were often imparted around a kitchen table. It’s a pedagogy that centers relationships, modeling, listening, watching, doing and the maintaining of high expectations. Contemporary classrooms and learning resources offer us much in the way of making knowledge accessible and easily distributed, but they do not always offer a real and tangible connection to community, the land and ancestral knowledge.
At the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) Regina Centre, we strive to assist our students in the reclaiming of their traditional ways of knowing and being, and to teach them how to engage with this knowledge in order to navigate and enhance mainstream education and classrooms. It is with this in mind that SUNTEP Regina staff and students recently organized and hosted a Métis kitchen table party as a culmination of a semester long journey of exploration and discovery.
The Faculty of SUNTEP Regina are constantly looking for new ways to collaborate and to provide our students with unique and decolonizing experiences. Prior to the beginning of the semester, Faculty members Brenna Pacholko, Erin Kramer, Natalie McNabb and Russ Fayant met to discuss the possibility of a collaborative assignment. It was decided that a kitchen table party would be a great way to allow students of different years and classes to work together and to connect to community all while achieving curricular goals for our respective classes.
Erin Kramer’s first year EPS 116 (Professional Studies) students were put in charge of cooking, invitations, and set up. This allowed them to build some valuable and necessary event organizing skills which come in handy as a classroom teacher.
Natalie McNabb’s KHS 139 (Movement Education) class was in charge of the entertainment. SUNTEP Regina offers KHS 139 as a semester long Métis dance class. The students worked throughout the semester with Natalie and renowned Métis dance expert Jeanne Pelletier to practice three Métis square dances and of course the Red River jig which had all those who attended thoroughly entertained. In Russ Fayant’s INDG 221 (Métis History) course, second year students were tasked with researching an aspect of Métis/Michif history and re-telling it as a historical narrative.
The audience was regaled with recollections of Métis fur trade maven Madame Laframboise in addition to stories about Jim Brady, the Northwest Resistance and the loves of Louis Riel. Finally, Brenna Pacholko’s third year EAES 215 (Educational Aesthetics) course had students reconstructing a portion of a road allowance house that was used as the backdrop to the dancing and storytelling.
Throughout the semester, Brenna’s class informed themselves of road allowance construction techniques by visiting Kohkum’s cabin at the Gabriel Dumont Institute Building in Saskatoon. They also took visits to the Lebret Métis farm and talked with Old Ones about the types of materials used in constructing road allowance houses. Finally, they had well known Red River cart builder George Fayant visit their classroom to teach about traditional tools and wood joining techniques.
Third year student Kyra Menhart reflected on the process saying, “The house is a piece of art that tells stories of our people. As students, our goal was to be authentic. The authenticity was driven by our goal to honour our Old Ones, their stories, and their memories within our house. Displaying it at the Métis kitchen party allowed us to see some of our biggest Métis role models enjoy it most. The party helped to weave together our stories, memories and laughter!”
The event was held at Eastview Community Center on November 22, 2019. It was important for the staff and students to bring the event to the Old Ones and community members, rather than asking them to travel to the university campus. Over 100 people were in attendance including Michif Old Ones Jeanne Pelletier, Irma Klyne, Jeanette Grams, Delora Parisian, Norma and Joe Welsh, Cliff Laplante among others including former GDI employees Calvin Racette, Joanne Pelletier, and Beverly Cardinal.
We were also joined by the students, faculty, and staff from Dumont Technical Institute Adult Basic Education program which is currently housed at Eastview Community Center. In addition to the dancing and storytelling, invitees feasted on a student prepared meal of bannock, boulettes and stew.
Michif cultural carrier and Old One Irma Klyne stated, “This was a great way to help our students understand how lii Michif lived on the road allowance. Most have no idea of what people needed to do daily to survive and how resourceful we were. This project allowed them to research that aspect of our lives.” The road allowance home will continue to inform and inspire students and visitors to the GDI library as the house has been transported and set up permanently within the library.
Overall the day was a great success. Old Ones mingled with students as they shared road allowance memories sparked by the reconstructed home. Students were proud to share what they had learned with the community. Throughout the process, faculty observed high levels of commitment and engagement from students and we are excited to plan future collaborative assignments which will allow our SUNTEP community to continue to connect to our extended families and histories in the broader Michif community of Southern Saskatchewan.
SUNTEP Regina student Kurtis Noels gets ready to demonstrate his Métis dance skills (Picture credit: Russ Fayant)
Enn vyay (Michif Old One), Jeanette Grams checks out the road allowance house. (Picture credit: Russ Fayant)
First year KHS 139 students receive dance calls from Jeanne Pelletier (Picture credit: Russ Fayant)
Road allowance home finds a new home in the Regina GDI Library (Picture credit: Russ Fayant)
Third year students Jordan Parisian and Kaleb Desjarlais help to set up the road allowance house in its new home in the GDI Library (Picture credit: Russ Fayant)