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'Going to put the Indian back in the Indian': Excitement builds for new Saskatoon Cree bilingual school


Saskatoon's long-awaited new Cree bilingual school is becoming a reality.

Students, teachers, and many others who've provided a helping hand in planning the project gathered at the future site of St. Frances Cree Bilingual School Monday to officially begin construction.

"It's a joyous day. I think everybody's hearts are full because we've worked for a long time to be able to ensure that this opportunity for all of those students that are present at St. Francis, but also the future students," Diane Boyko, chair of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said.

The three-storey Kindergarten to Grade 8 school is expected to welcome roughly 700 students when it opens in the fall of 2025. It will also reunite the program that was forced to split into two schools -- one for Kindergarten to Grade 5, and another for grades 6 to 8 -- because of increased demand.

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand never had the opportunity to learn Cree and other traditional teachings when he was growing up.

Raised by his Catholic grandparents and taught French as a child, the 52-year-old said he's still trying to learn more about his culture and language. And once St. Frances is open, the next generation won't have the same difficulties seeking out those opportunities.

"Residential schools, we all know that dark history was to take the Indian out of the Indian, but this school is going to put the Indian back in the Indian," he said.

"And we're going to be proud of that. And that's what we have to celebrate because now we're correcting the historical wrongs."

Located at the site of the former Sion Middle School at 2010 Seventh St. E., the school will combine all the latest technology available with traditional teachings that go well beyond Cree language.

Students will be able to access a research and learning greenhouse, an Elder's teaching room, and a medicines lab, among other unique programming spaces, as well as a Child and Family Wellness Centre.

"So from the health perspective, from the spiritual perspective, all of that is going to be encompassed within the school," Boyko said.

Arcand said the programs that go beyond making children bilingual will be invaluable.

"Those teachings are going to be passed on to their children when they graduate from here and they move on," he said.

The province contributed $45.9 million into the project.

Boyko said St. Frances Cree Bilingual School currently has around 700 students enrolled. When the program started in 2007 there were roughly 100 students. Conversations to build the program its own school followed shortly afterwards.

Before construction even began, Arcand wondered how long it would be before demand exceeds the school space.

"Trust me, this will be the largest school in Canada -- if not the world -- in regards to Cree bilingual," he said.

Arcand said he plans on enrolling his seven-year-old boy when the school opens. He can't wait to see how a traditional Cree bilingual education will impact his child.

"It's the gift of the child we've got to focus on and the gift of the child was taken away. But now we're putting that back in through relationships and through partnerships and through hard work and understanding what it means to be equal," Arcand said. Top Stories

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