A photo of a person addressing a crowd of students at a pow wow.

Teaching Traditions to Students Important to Cree Knowledge Keeper

By: Jackie Ledingham November, 2022

Connecting the students back to their culture through traditional teachings is important to Lynal Ernest. As a Knowledge Keeper he was invited by Antje Rongve, Dream Broker, Rivers West District for sport, Culture & Recreation, to help develop and deliver cultural programming for Connaught Elementary and St. Mary School students in North Battleford.

Rongve says, “There was both a need for, and a push for, more cultural programming for the schools in this area, as over 90 percent of the students are Indigenous.”

Because of COVID, the program that would normally run after school, was held during school hours, so Ernest had more involvement with the students and teachers, which created a larger impact. Not only did he reach 300 students with his sessions, but all of the non-Indigenous teachers at both schools also gained a better understanding of Cree culture and protocols.

“He opened the staff’s eyes to how beautiful and respectful the culture is and always welcomed any questions they had,” says Rongve. “It also introduced kids, who hadn’t had the opportunity to learn about their culture before in a safe space, to an amazing instructor.”

The program, Lynal’s Cultural Protocols, ran from January to June, 2022, for grades four to seven, focused on Cree traditions, protocol, language lessons, storytelling and Treaty history. For kindergarten to grade three, his focus was on singing, drumming and some Cree conversations. Each grade got four or more sessions with Ernest, which started with a smudge, prayer and an inspirational video about his journey with drumming and singing, which led to his participation in an Indigenous Youth Gathering at the 2010 Olympics.

Ernest saw some noticeable positive changes within the children and youth the more time he spent with them. “The little ones, would come give me a hug and tell me how excited they were to see me again,” he notes. “The older students started sharing with me about their families and how they were involved in culture, showing a lot of pride in themselves. And, the teachers said they heard the students, trying to talk Cree in the hall and were singing the songs I taught them.”

For everyone involved in his program, a great deal of understanding and respect was gained for the Cree culture and for the Knowledge Keeper who taught them.

“Lynal is a leader by example. When he walks into the schools, I think that is his happy place. He has a vision for how he wants to do things with his life and help the youth in the community,” says Rongve. “He is very patient with the kids. His methods were effective and the students really listened to him because of him being so humble, calm and having nothing but good things to say to them.”

For Ernest the experience was one of growth and hope for the future. “The students remind me so much of myself growing up, understanding all the issues we go through as a First Nations person. I am glad I was able to help them see the good in our culture,” he goes on to add. “These teachings are so important because, I believe these are the things that are going to begin to heal our people and solve a lot issues we are facing as First Nations People.”

This program received funding thanks to a Dream Brokers Program Grant offered through Creative Kids.