New high school for Tsuut'ina Nation will have strong focus on culture and curriculum

Construction is starting on a new high school for the Tsuut’ina Nation west of Calgary, Alta.

Chief Lee Crowchild says school will help create new generation of Tsuut’ina leaders

Chief Lee Crowchild, centre, joins Tsuut’ina councillors and officials to break ground on the new high school. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Construction is starting on a new high school for the Tsuut'ina Nation, west of Calgary, Alta.

The new 43,000-square-foot school is the latest in a string of big development pieces for the First Nation, including the Grey Eagle Casino and hotel, a new sportsplex and the new southwest ring road currently under construction.

A row of shiny new shovels hit the dirt on Wednesday as Nation officials broke ground on the $18-million, federally-funded project, following smudges, prayers, singing and drumming at the Bullhead Adult Learning Centre.

"This is a day where the future begins to unfold, unfold for our young men and women, the next generations that will take these leadership roles," said Chief Lee Crowchild.

"This will give them the opportunity to get an education within the context of the Tsuut'ina."

Chief Lee Crowchild said language will be a big focus at the new school. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Crowchild said one big focus of the much-needed school will be language, and keeping their's alive.

"The Tsuut'ina language was almost lost and it's had a real rejuvenation. It's taught as full immersion at the K-4 level and there's a big push to make sure it's secure for the future," said Crowchild.

The new state-of-the-art school will include a theatre for fine arts, a culinary space, learning commons and a full-size gym. 

"Education is only one part. The whole person and life-long learning is also a big part, we don't stop learning until we draw our last breath," said Crowchild.

The school is being built by developer Bird, who say they are working with the Nation collaboratively, involving them in the process as much as possible through construction.

A rendering of the new high school, which is set to open in 2020. (Supplied)

The developer is a national contractor with experience of working with First Nations across the country.

"This is not just a building," said Valerie McDougall, Director of Tsuut'ina Education.

"This is who we are, our culture and our language. That's one of the things we really focus on and we want to integrate it with the Alberta program of studies," said McDougall.

"Also making our students more successful in terms of identity, who they are and that they're able to go outside of our community and achieve the thing that they need need by knowing who they are as Tsuut'ina people," she said.

McDougall says the Nation currently only has two schools as well as an adult learning centre and a new Tsuut'ina language immersion pilot project that started this year.

The new high school will be home to around 100 students.

It's due to be completed and ready to open in 2020.