Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth provided the keynote and spoke at other sessions at the Circle of Knowledge and Practices (CKP) Conference in October 2023. She shared valuable information for First Nations staff and students to reflect on as they continue the school year through the winter months. As many will remember, newly elected Premier Wab Kinew attended the first morning of the CKP Conference, which thrilled Tsannie-Burseth who was able to speak with him. She says this election was history being made and looks forward to similar historic events when Indigenous languages are incorporated into the curriculum to produce fluent speakers. Premier Kinew later said, “In my first days as the new Premier of Manitoba, I had the great honour of joining members of the community and strong Indigenous leaders at the Circle of Knowledge Conference. Sitting at the drum and singing with our community was a powerful reminder of what we have accomplished together for our province. This is a new day in Manitoba, where everyone, including Indigenous people, are included.”
Advancing Education through Local Knowledge
Tsannie-Burseth summarized her talk as, “Looking into the past to build Indigenous Education based on local linguistic, Indigenous Knowledge and cultural heritage.” Her information blended perfectly into the theme of this year’s CKP, which was First Nations Ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing. She focused her talk on First Nations languages, Traditional Knowledge and Elders in education, and First Nations ways of teaching, such as land-based learning. Tsannie-Burseth comes by her information through spending 36 years as a teacher, principal, and director of education. She is a Dene speaker and member of Hatchet Lake Dënesųlįnë First Nation. As a residential school survivor, she is a role model for overcoming challenges and advancing in education and her career. She has a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Regina. Tsannie-Burseth is currently working on her PhD at the University of Saskatchewan, studying Dënesųlįnë history, language, and culture. The keynote speaker has strong ideas for advancing First Nations education, but she started by saying why Indigenous peoples need to see such change. Indigenous peoples face socioeconomic inequality compared to non-Indigenous Canadians and are marginalized due to the impacts of colonialism. Colonialism included the forced removal from lands and communities and the residential school system with its mandatory assimilation and adoption of foreign knowledge. The result is high unemployment, poverty, and over-representation in prisons among Indigenous populations, among other discrepancies and hardships.
First Nations Languages Have Top Priority
Tsannie-Burseth says First Nations languages need to be put first and made official. She says that leadership at all levels needs to be involved. The money per student for language learning needs to be increased—the Canadian government did the damage, and it needs to come up with the funds to rectify the loss of languages. The keynote speaker has researched language learning across the world and shared examples of successful language programs from within and outside of Canada. She recommends immersion or bi-lingual programming and says schools have to move away from 45-minute language classes each day. Each First Nation will make its own decisions regarding language programming. An Immersion program is ideal, with students learning in the First Nations language from preschool to Grade 3 or 4. Then a bi-lingual program for the higher grades involving half First Nations language and half English. Models the speaker mentioned include Deh Gáh Elementary and Secondary School in the Northwest Territories, which benefits from its immersion Kindergarten to Grade 3 option that then transitions to a double-streamed program. https://www.ddec.ca/schools/ deh-gah-elementary/
A positive development Tsannie-Burseth mentions is the use of language apps and games to facilitate language learning. She says to normalize First Nations language speaking in First Nations by encouraging its use in business, local leadership, and mass media.