Centering Spirit in Post-Secondary Education

This past Spring, Blue Quills University announced they were creating a new Indigenous Master of Education program. This program was designed to be grounded in Indigenous knowledge and teachings and would be taught in the same classrooms that residential school Survivors were taught to feel shame for their culture and traditions.

As of September 2023, I began a new journey at Blue Quills, but this time as a student in their Indigenous Master of Education program. As I entered Blue Quills on my first day, I had to take a moment to reflect on how my father felt when he first entered Blue Quills. In 1958, my father was forced to attend Blue Quills where they attempted to strip him of his Cree identity and assimilate him into western society. 65 years later, I made the decision to attend Blue Quills to learn about my Cree identity and it’s hard to describe the feeling this gives me.

Blue Quills starts each academic year with a week-long culture camp to ground all students in traditional teachings and protocols. I’d like to share the most powerful moment I experienced that week. We were to receive teachings about a specific ceremony. The Knowledge Keeper, our teacher, was struggling with his words and apologized to us that he didn’t have the strength to share and asked if he could reschedule for another day. In western institutions, the class would have ended and continued another day. What happened instead confirmed I was in the right place. Part of our culture is to uplift, support, and love one another. As soon as the Knowledge Keeper shared that he didn’t have the strength, the traditional singers in the room stood up, got their drums and rattles, surrounded him, and started singing. Those who did not sing stood behind resting their hand on his shoulders, with those behind resting their hands on the shoulder in front of them. We all connected to pray for him, to cry with him, and to give him strength. After the song was sung, we all sat down in the circle around him and he thanked us for the love we showed him. With the strength we gave him, he was able to continue with his teachings.

About the Author

Joel Cardinal is a Néhiyaw from Saddle Lake Cree Nation and the Manager of ReconciliACTIONs at the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.