Winnipeg school to make history with Ojibwa, Cree bilingual classes

History will be made as the bell rings welcoming students into Ojibwa and Cree bilingual classes in Winnipeg next week.

Kindergarten students at Isaac Brock School will be taught entirely in the Indigenous languages

The Winnipeg School Division hosted an open house at Isaac Brock School in January for parents who were interested in registering their children in the new Ojibwa and Cree bilingual language program. (Courtney Rutherford/CBC)

History will be made as the bell rings welcoming students into Ojibwa and Cree bilingual classes in Winnipeg next week.

The new language program run out of Isaac Brock School in the West End will have kindergarten students taught entirely in either Cree or Ojibwa.

"I think it's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time now to have heritage languages spoken at the school," said Rob Riel, Winnipeg School Division's director of Aboriginal Education and Newcomer Services.

"Having kindergarten students be able to speak the language of their parents and grandparents is tremendous."

At the end of 2015, the school division trustees approved the new language program, which will teach students how to speak, read and write in the two Indigenous languages.

Riel said the program will be like every other Kindergarten class except instead of following the Manitoba curriculum in English, the curriculum will be followed "through the eyes of Cree and Ojibwa teachers."

"They will be starting off the morning with the smudge," he said. "Then there is a curriculum outcomes that will be met by smudging with regards to counting and colours and days of the week and seasons and things like that."

The program shows that the division is listening to Cree and Ojibwa people, Riel said. A special curriculum guide called 13 Moons on a Turtle's Back was developed specifically for the program.

"It's safe to say that this program is not going to fail," Riel said. "There's been many people supporting it. I think with the traditional start we've had by putting out tobacco, only good things are going to happen."

As it develops, the program will expand to include students in Grades 1 to 6, who will spend half their days learning in English and the other half in Cree and Ojibwa.

As for bringing in teachers, Riel said there are a lot of Cree and Ojibwa educators in the province but many stay in their home communities. However, the interest was still large.

"Our toughest was selecting, we had many names to go from," he said. "Hopefully they will be able to grab this curriculum and students will be able to flourish."

When the books open and the Kindergarten desks fill next week, Riel said it will be a turn for the division and the city.

"We are ready and raring to go."