St. Frances Cree Bilingual School in Saskatoon is getting a permanent home that will accommodate hundreds of students and allow them to learn about and celebrate their language, culture and identity.
This has been a dream 13 years in the making for Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) Chief Mark Arcand.
“That’s something that I never had as a young child growing up. I was sent off the reserve to go to a local town and I was taught French, and I would go home and I would have to listen to my grandparents teach Cree to me. That’s going to change,” he said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“My children will have an opportunity to be part of a school to learn something that I never learned and that’s how we’re changing systems that have been negative to First Nations people in this province.”
Arcand said he believes this is the largest Cree language school in all of Canada, if not the world, in an urban centre.
St. Frances Cree Bilingual School is currently offered at two separate locations in the city — McPherson Avenue and Bateman Crescent — due to growing interest in the program since it was established in 2007.
Those will be replaced by the new school, which will be located at 2010 7th St. East and will be able to take in 700 students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 8.
“Now they’re going to have an opportunity to learn ceremony at a very young age and what the traditional medicines mean to First Nations people, things like that that’s really going to benefit their identity and who they are so that they can be proud of who they are as a First Nations person,” Arcand said.
Diane Boyko, chair of the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools Board of Education, set the scene for what the new school will be like.
“The school is a heart of the community and it is a hub of activity and not just during the school day. It’s filled with life as a community centre and a place where children can come and hangout and play and be comfortable knowing that this is their second home,” she said at the press conference.
Boyko also spoke about the importance of reconciliation and how there is still a long journey ahead.
“It is another journey that we will continue to walk together. And this building — the new Frances Bilingual Cree School — will be a tangible sign, a beacon of reconciliation in our schools and in our community,” she said.
The Saskatchewan government will be providing $34.5 million in funding for the new facility.
Education Minister Gordon Wyant said it will support “the growth and the development of families and students in the Saskatoon St. Frances community for years to come.”
The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023, but Wyant said before shovel can hit pavement, there will be extensive consultation with the Indigenous community, STC, parents and the local community to ensure the cultural needs of students are being met.
“Indigenous design will be at the forefront of planning as we strive to create and co-create a space conducive for cultural practices and ceremonies throughout daily learning,” he said, noting that the building won’t be following any template and will be unique.
Arcand said this facility will be a huge step forward in terms of reconciliation.
“When we talk about the effects of residential schools was to take the Indian out of the child, we now have an opportunity to keep the Indian inside of the child,” he said.
“This is a story that’s going to be a beacon of light in this city for First Nations people. It’s going to be a game-changer.”