Yellowknife educators gear up for school year with Indigenous education day

Approximately 300 new and returning school staff from the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 gathered by the Yellowknife River on Thursday to take part in an Indigenous language education day.

Educators learn Willideh language and Indigenous cultural practices to bring back to the classroom

Educators pack in around the soapstone carving station, getting down and dusty with files to grind the soapstone into animal shapes. Soapstone carving was one of the many Indigenous cultural practices that Yellowknife educators had the chance to learn at the Indigenous language education day on Thursday. (Rose Danen/ CBC)

Teachers, education assistants, and support staff of the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 gathered by the Yellowknife River on Thursday to take part in an Indigenous language education day.

The goal of the day was to teach the approximately 300 new and returning school staff the importance of language and culture, so that they can better engage with the Dene Kede curriculum, according to coordinator Andrea Harding. 

"It really is just an opportunity for us to respect and engage in the cultural learnings of the area and have people come together so that they feel that we are supporting their professional learning in a way that's relevant for them," said Jameel Aziz, superintendent for the Yellowknife school district.

Yellowknife educators gather around the fish preparation station where Paul McKenzie demonstrates how to de-bone a fish. (Rose Danen/ CBC)

Aziz says he hopes educators will be able to take the skills and resources from this education day to break down cultural barriers in their classrooms and keep Indigenous languages alive.

The day started with a chief welcome and a feeding-the-fire ceremony, followed by a keynote speech and performance from Juno award winning Canadian singer Susan Aglukark, who graduated herself from Yellowknife's Sir John Franklin high school. 

Staff then spent the afternoon developing skills in Indigenous cultural practices such as soapstone carving, moose hide tanning, canoeing, beadworking and more. 

There were also many opportunities for attendees to gain familiarity with the Willideh language.

Juno award winning singer Susan Aglukark was the keynote speaker for the Yellowknife Education District No. 1's Indigenous language education P.D. day. Pictured here, Aglukark, far left, greets Yellowknife teachers after her performance. (Rose Danen/ CBC)

"As a young Indigenous lady, I feel that it's needed more and more," said Crystal Catholique, who is a new education assistant at Sir John Franklin. "The teachers being able to experience what we have been doing since I've been growing up — that they're able to take the language with them, being able to show the students this is what is done in this area of the Northwest Territories."

This was also the first time educators were able to gather en mass since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event took place at the Yellowknives Dene's Wiiliideh Site by the Yellowknife River. 

Yellowknife students return to the classroom on Aug. 29.

Jen Hubert, a teacher at Sir John Franklin high school, practices her high kick at the Indigenous games station. (Rose Danen/ CBC)
Verna Crapeau, seated left in a head scarf, and Mike Crapeau, seated next to her, demonstrate to the educators gathered around them how to prep a moose hide for tanning. (Rose Danen/ CBC)
Bead art expert Kathy Paul-Drover, left, teaches education staff how to thread a needle at the bead working station. (Rose Danen/ CBC)
The Indigenous language education P.D. day. started with a chief welcome and a feed-the-fire ceremony. The fire continued to burn throughout the day as teachers participated in the Indigenous cultural practices workshops. (Rose Danen/ CBC)
A Yellowknife teacher carves a bear out of soapstone. (Rose Danen/ CBC)
Yellowknife teachers cut firewood and learn how to build structures for fire starting at the fire making station. (Rose Danen/ CBC)
Paige Anderson beading an upper decal for a child's moccasin at the bead working station. Anderson is a teacher at William McDonald Middle School. (Rose Danen/ CBC)


Rose Danen


Rose Danen is a small-town reporter from Ontario. She loves telling stories about politics, social inequality, and small communities. She previously reported for CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at