By Rick Garrick
Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek’s David Thompson is enjoying his first year of teaching Native Language courses at several Lakehead Public Schools high schools in Thunder Bay.
“They are really trying hard to bring in more of that aspect of Aboriginal studies, Aboriginal language, Aboriginal cultures and trying to make it more common in the school curriculum,” Thompson says. “It’s not just a program that is open to Aboriginal students. It’s open for anybody who has an open mind, open heart to learn more about the real Canadian history and real Canadian culture.”
Thompson says the Aboriginal cultures are still valid today and will continue to be valid in the future.
“It is really important to learn as much as you can, especially with language, particularly if you are looking at different careers,” Thompson says. “If you are planning to work in the north, you are going to need some understanding of language, whether it’s a few words or if you can learn some basic conversation or better yet if you work towards becoming a fluent, competent speaker.”
Thompson previously taught Native Language and other courses at a Keewatin Patricia District School Board elementary school in Ear Falls, which is located about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.
“It was nice because I got to do cross-cultural curriculum with other subjects using the (Anishinabemowin) language and culture as well,” Thompson says. “It worked out really great. I wasn’t teaching just Aboriginal children; I was teaching everybody. So it was a nice opportunity for me as a teacher to share language and culture. It was really beneficial for all the students.”
Thompson taught the elementary school students about First Nation stories and the Seven Grandfather teachings.
“It was a great opportunity to spread the word,” Thompson says. “(For the) parents, it was new to them that the kids were coming home sharing songs and stories. When we would have parent nights, some of the parents would come and say: ‘You know, my kid came home with this wonderful story.’ So parents were pretty receptive to a lot of the information that the kids were learning.”
Thompson also partnered with Wabauskang, a local First Nation community, to build language skills for community members.
“We started bringing the program into the community on a weekly basis,” Thompson says. “We’d have gatherings every Wednesday night and to my delight a lot of the students I was teaching at public school were coming out for what we called the language table.”
Thompson says the language table included a potluck meal.
“As long as the food was coming, people were coming to participate,” Thompson says. “So we did that for several years and it became a wonderful experience because people heard about what was going on.”
Thompson, an Elder and a school board representative were invited down to Toronto to speak about the program at an education conference.
“We did a demo talking about the story of how the language program developed and how culture was becoming an important aspect in the curriculum,” Thompson says. “We got to go down there and showcase what was happening in the tiny little community and the partnerships that were important, especially between Wabauskang First Nation and the Ear Falls Public School.”
Thompson studied at Lakehead University’s Native Language Instructor’s Program after being mentored by Wanda White, the language teacher in his home community. He had previously completed his B.Ed at Lakehead University in 1988.
“She started mentoring me with the language,” Thompson says. “If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have gone back to university to take the (NLIP) certification. She really built up my confidence and re-introduced me to seeing the world through the culture, especially the language. So it was a really rewarding life experience crossing paths with her.”