This afternoon my student, Carly, and I sat in the corner of Fort Qu’Appelle Elementary Community School and interviewed grade four and seven teacher, Roberta Gehl.
Q: Last Friday at our PD, you told me a story about Alma Poitras. But first, tell me a bit about the history of Alma coming into Fort Qu’Appelle Elementary.
A: I had the pleasure of meeting Alma about a month ago. I was in a meeting with a small group of staff members, and our intent is to teach treaties more authentic, rather than staging events, and teaching treaties as a separate class, and so we found out that Alma Poitras had worked there and that Alma might be a person to guide us in the right direction, and as it turned out, she was available to help us with our plan, and to work with all of the kids in the school.
Q: What happened at the first meeting with Alma?
A: We invited her to our meeting, there were four of us there, Principal Don Jewitt, Vice Principal Julie Sedo, and Shannon Kennedy-Maurice, who is our Treaty Catalyst Teacher, and myself, I’m the newest member of the group. And Alma came to meet with us, and she was very interested in what we were doing, and be available to come on a regular basis, and that was what we were really hoping for, to have someone who would become part of our family, and to come regularly so that the kids would get to know here, and she would have more of an impact and more of an influence in what we were doing.
Q: Tell me about the first day that Alma came to the school.
A: Well, it was a grand day. We decided that we would introduce her to the whole school in an assembly, and we found out that we didn’t know too much about protocol, and Alma assured us that as time goes on, we’ll learn more, and not to worry too much, that she’d guide us a little bit, but we would just go forward. We contacted Kelsey Starblanket and he mentioned that there were certain things that we should be doing for this introduction. We had had Mr. Robert Bellegarde in our school last year for a one day session on tipi teachings, and Mr. Starblanket suggested that we should invite Mr. Bellegarde back as well. So we decided that we would introduce them both in the assembly, and we were also were able to have some drummers and singers with us. The kids were welcomed into the gym and into the assembly with the drums and singing, and that was really unusual and really awesome. Alma and Robert were sitting in the front. Alma lead is in a prayer, and asked for things to go well, and asked for things to go in a good way. I did the introductions and Alma spoke for a bit, and all of the kids met her, and had a chance to hear Mr. Bellegarde say a few words, and Mr. Starblanket. Immediately after the assembly, Alma went to the classrooms. We didn’t know how long those sessions would last. We didn’t have a firm plan; we were going to let her feel things out. Actually, she came into my classroom first, and we thought it was going to be a half hour, but it turned into almost an hour, could have gone a lot longer. And then she went to the next class and the next class. That’s just how it went. It was a great day, a great day.
Q: Now, tell us what happened in your classroom.
A: Again, a couple of the kids are her grandchildren, and of course they knew their Kokum, and she spotted them; she didn’t know they were in those classes, but she spotted them and was happy to see them there, and the other kids had met Alma for the very first time. And, she sat down, and the kids were around her in the circle on the floor and in desks and all over the place because we’d combined the two grade four classes, so it was a large group. And Alma just started talking. We didn’t have any agenda about what she would talk about. She started talking about the significance of the circle. She asked the kids certain things. She just went along as they were asking questions. It wasn’t planned ahead of time, as far as I know, it just unfolded, and the kids were extremely receptive to Alma, and I know they felt like I did when I first met Alma, that she has just such a calm presence about her, and the kids responded to that very well, and they could tell that she would listen to them, and they were really receptive to that. She did a lot of the talking, but she was willing to listen to what they had to say, and they really wanted to participate. She spoke in Cree, they repeated what she said. They were very eager. We had a great time, and at the end, I was deeply moved by the ending of our time together. As I say, she was a stranger virtually to most of them, but they just stood up, and one after another, started going to hug her, laying their heads on her shoulder, and rubbing her back, or just touching her arm, and she welcomed those embraces, and I was really touched that it was something they really needed. They get a lot of love in this school, and that, but she brought something that they all seemed to need, or a good number of the students. It was just a really warm feeling. We spoke afterwards, Alma and I, and she was really pleased and happy. She was really was looking forward to her next visit and the visits that she would have with the other classes.
At the end of the interview there were tears rolling down my cheek. My youngest daughter, Arwen, was one of those grade four students.