Wednesday, October 28, 2020, marked a very special day for Holy Spirit Catholic School Division as Catholic Central High School received a Blackfoot name at a small and personal gathering in the school’s Eggplant Theatre. Led by Kainai Elder Tom Little Bear, the very touching ceremony involved a smudge, face painting and the Blackfoot naming of the building.
From time to time, we learn of when First Nations communities honour individuals with a Blackfoot name, but it is particularly distinctive and rare that such entities as buildings are honoured in the same manner. As a former student in our Catholic school system, Elder Little Bear shared his experience growing up in a very traditional First Nations family on the Kainai Reserve with grandparents who were spiritual leaders in their community. Together with the influence of those within the Lethbridge Catholic School District at the time, Little Bear’s experience was particularly inspiring.
Only the fourth building in the City of Lethbridge to receive a Blackfoot name, Catholic Central was beautifully named, “Taatsikioyis – Centre Tipi”. As I have come to understand the significance of this name, I realize that, to have received it in one of our schools, is of the highest honour. In their culture, Blackfoot people gather annually in the summers on the Kainai Reserve for Aakokaatsin – Circle Camp. Their traditions, relationships with each other and their Creator would be renewed. At Aakokaatsin – Circle Camp, the central tipi is viewed as a very special place of sacredness, learning and relationship. With this special honour now placed upon Catholic Central High School, this institution of learning becomes a beacon – a place where our Blackfoot students can connect with each other and with the entire school community – a place where learning and prayer are interwoven.
I felt so privileged to have been a part of and to witness this powerful and beautiful cultural ceremony; listening to Elder Little Bear’s wisdom about the interconnectedness of our faith and the cultural beliefs and the ways of being and knowing of our Blackfoot people. As a Catholic school division, we continue to be truly blessed by the presence and leadership of the First Nations people in our greater communities. We are indeed grateful for this very special distinction.
A recording of the livestreaming of the event can be found here at this link.
From every possible angle and perspective in the field of education the development of meaningful and purposeful relationships with other people is of utmost importance. While the development of many different relationships in schools are essential, like those with colleagues and parents, we know that the primary focus needs to be on the students entrusted to our care. Students rely on being able to connect with and develop trusting relationships with those who care for them, whether a teacher, administrator or support staff. Dr. Jody Carrington, author of Kids These Days, tells us that “schools and educators are the most significant connection point to most every child on this continent.”
As educators we recognize that strong genuine relationships are the starting points for all learning. Before we can begin to worry about teaching lessons, delivering content, and facilitating learning, students need to feel that they are welcomed, cared for, and as though they truly belong. I’m fairly confident that each of us can remember caring adults in our past who embraced, supported, and encouraged us to develop to our greatest potential. Our accomplishments in life can very likely be attributed to these relationships.
Though we are all well aware that our children socialize and connect differently now, I think we are also very aware of how important it is for them to continue to develop close, real-life relationships. The isolation that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this truth more evident. Perhaps more than anyone, our youth are struggling with the restrictions of not being able to gather as larger groups of friends. They may rely heavily on technology to link with each other through various social media, but they are not able to connect in-person which, in many ways, is devastating to them. Connectedness and secure reliable relationships are critical to their mental well-being.
While we navigate through this temporary and difficult time of not being in the typical routine of our in-school classroom environment, we must remain mindful of the importance of our relationships and interconnectedness with students. Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic tells us, “It is those things that are unchanging that allow us to make sense of change. So, at a time when change has never been more constant or intense, what is unchanging is more valuable than ever.” Although the pandemic has changed the way we do many things, let us continue to develop and foster the most fundamental of all human needs – the never-changing need to develop and sustain positive relationships.