Monday, February 13, 2012

Day One Hundred and Ten: Chief Perry Bellegarde in Our School

My student and I have pulled two desks together in Ms. Strickland's room. We've plugged in the audio recorder. The young woman checks her phone and says, "Perry is outside."

"Mrs. Koops, please come to the office. Mrs. Koops, to the office." The secretary's voice rings through the school.

"Guess he's inside the school now," I say. "Do you want to go meet him, or do you want me to go?"

"You go," she says.

I introduce myself to Chief Perry Bellegarde of Little Black Bear First Nation and ask him to follow me down the hallway. My student, who is Chief Bellegarde's relative, is waiting for us in the doorway. The young woman couldn't find the interview file from the cabinet, so I tiptoe into my silent reading classroom, and find the file hiding behind another. Chief Bellegarde is looking at pictures of graduates on the wall when I come out into the hallway.

The three of us sit down in desks. I explain that I'll get things started, and then need to return across the hall to my classroom. I push the red button on the middle of the recorder and pray I know what I'm doing, and my student opens her file. She gives Chief Bellegarde a media release form so that we can publish his picture and our article in our upcoming First Nations and Metis Leadership Literacy Project magazine. He signs it. I push the red button again and the numbers on the digital screen start progressing, showing that we're recording.

The young woman reads the first question. Her tone is even. Her intonation is subtle. Her pitch is soft.

Chief Perry answers. His tone is rich. His intonation is passionate. His pitch is confident.

I listen to a shy young woman interview a powerful leader. He could be addressing any gathering, anywhere in the world; his words ring with authenticity, vision and urgency. I'm understanding, up close and personal, why Chief Bellegarde has the respect of so many Canadians, both locally and nationally, and yet here he is, honouring a quiet girl, showing that she is worthy of his time, letting her teacher listen in.

I notice that the questions are running out, and I want to hear more, so I slide the looseleaf closer and pencil in, "What inspires you?" I slide the paper back and she reads my question. We listen. I add another, "What are your hopes or dreams?" She reads just as smoothly as though we had this all planned out, so we continue. "What keeps you going?" and "What are your greatest challenges?" Then, just like Michelle Hugli-Brass taught us, I scratch on the page, "Thank you for coming to visit today. Do you have anything else you'd like to share with me?"

He shares his three D's and three A's and then five P's and even five E's. He's smiling, explaining some of his favorite words for young people. He's offering hope, right within this circle of student, leader and teacher.

Later as I'm writing this blog entry, I'm wondering if I should also include some of Chief Bellegarde's accomplishments, so I check out his websiste which my student, his young relative, had first shown me. And as I read through his biography, his accomplishments, it's like I'm out walking to school again this morning, past the governance centre, the hospital, the Treaty Four grounds, realizing that Chief Bellegarde was highly instrumental in their creation. And as I walk through the website, there he is shaking hands with Nelson Mandela and talking with Prince Charles. But today, Chief Perry Bellegarde visited with us because his young relative asked him if she could interview him for a school project.

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