'It's really cool:' Students, parents say Chief Whitecap School best of 2 worlds

Saskatoon Morning will be broadcasting from Chief Whitecap School after parents and students nominated it as a unique school in the city.

School ties together First Nations student together with non First Nations students

Grade 5 student Phoenix Tully says Chief Whitecap School is a great place to learn. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Phoenix Tully loves to smudge before her morning classes.

While she had never performed the spiritual practice before now, the grade 5 student started smudging after attending Chief Whitecap School, a new partnership between Saskatoon Public Schools and the Whitecap Dakota First Nation.

"People sometimes have hard days in the morning," she said. "When you go to smudge, it's supposed to clear your mind."

Smudging isn't the only thing that's bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at this innovative school. Open for only two years, the school is partially funded by the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, located 30 kilometres south of the city.

Every day, the First Nation sends its Grade 5 to 8 students to the school on a bus. While some parents were initially hesitant to send their children to a school with an enrolment of nearly 700 students, many are glad they did.

"We felt that would be good for our daughter to go to school here because it's a place that would be reflective of her history," said parent Ian Worme.

"It's something that she could identify with and something that she could be proud of."

While the school has a First Nations focus, children from many different cultures attend the school. Worme said that's a good thing.

"Her best friends in the school, I think one is from Bangladesh and the other is from the Philippines," he said. "So, that's good for her. It's good for everybody."

Art Smarts

The school prides itself in its incorporation of the Dakota language and culture, and the school's core concepts of wisdom, humility, courage and generosity and one of the ways teachers there have been able to do that is through an art project.

This week, students were taught about the concept of generosity and were then asked to paint a picture of what that means to them.

Student Aayan Khan works on an award-winning art project. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

"It's really cool because our school's all about Dakota values," said Grade 5 student Sidney Deibert. "It's neat, because I've never done something like this before."

At the next table over, student Aayan Khan said these projects are important.

"As a Muslim. I like to see that other cultures are coming together," he said. "The New Zealand attack was very tragic but this kind of makes me feel better."

The art project recently won the City of Saskatoon's Living in Harmony Recognition Award. The project partnered with artist Muveddet Al-Katib to create four tapestries to hang in the school.

"I find that art is a very strong tool to connect to others," said Al-Katib. "When I came to Canada 20 years ago, I didn't have much English. My connection to others was my art."

Chief Whitecap

Saskatoon Public School Board chairman Ray Morrison said the school board and Whitecap Dakota have had a working relationship since 1995, when the board began taking the First Nations students into nearby John Lake School. 

He said the relationship has been essential to the development of Chief Whitecap School.

The art project, led by artist Muveddet Al-Katib focuses on the school's four core concepts of Wisdom, Humility, Courage and Generosity. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

"None of this was done without consultation with the Whitecap community," he said. "We continue to work with those communities to do the best we can and to meet what their expectations are."

The school is named after Chief Whitecap, the namesake of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, who famously met with Saskatoon founder John Lake and advised European settlers on where their settlement should be located.

It's the first school in the city to be named after the leader of a First Nation.

"There's a park named after (Chief Whitecap) and the statue at the foot of the traffic bridge," said Morrison. "Because we have a long historical partnership with the First Nation, that's what we based our decision on."

The alliance between Whitecap Dakota and Saskatoon Public Schools is unique. Saskatoon Public Schools runs the Charles Red Hawk Elementary School on the reserve for pre-kindergarten to Grade 4 students, while Whitecap Dakota and the federal government contribute money to the operation of both schools. 

"We've been through a number of federal ministers and a number of provincial ministers as we work our way through this," said Morrison.

"They've been very supportive because they understand that, at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do."

Saskatoon Morning will be holding its Friday show live at Chief Whitecap School. Tune in between 6 and 8:30 a.m. at 94.1 FM to learn more.


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