Culture and History at Blue Quills

June 23, 2011

After my trip to Vancouver, I traveled to my next stop: St. Paul, Alberta. After flying into Edmonton, I drove 3 hours to St. Paul. The landscape was beautiful. Not quite the flat lands of the prairies I had been expecting, but low hills, fields of crops, and bales of hay. The grass was yellowed in spots, creating patterns that spoke to the wild weather sometimes experienced in these parts.

A back view of the school

I traveled to St. Paul in order to attend the annual Blue Quills Cultural Camp. I had read about the Blue Quills First Nations College and their story of taking back their school (in the 1970s) and wanted to learn more about it. At the time, the Minister of Indian Affairs was Jean Chretien, who predicted that the school under Aboriginal control would only last six months. Forty years later, the school is still going strong. They offer programs in Business Application & Data Management/ Office Readiness, Cree Language, Early Childhood Education, and Information Technology among others.

The school is governed by seven local First Nations communities: Beaver Lake, Cold Lake, Frog Lake, Whitefish Lake, Heart Lake, Kehewin, and Saddle Lake, representing approximately 17,500 people.

Coinciding with the national day of reconciliation on May 25th, the Cultural Camp was a week long event held at the school. The schedule was filled with arts and crafts (rattle making, decorative drums, hide scraping etc.), sharing circles, wagon rides, sweat lodges, and traditional ceremonies (horse dance ceremony and chicken dance ceremony). These events helped to create a real sense of place and a strong sense of community.

Eric Large looking up at his former school

During my visit, former student Eric Large took me on a tour of the school. He pointed out the old dormitories where he slept, the supply closet for the nurse, old classrooms. We walked through what was once the girls dormitory. “I don’t know much about this part of the building,” he said. “We were never allowed here. They always kept us apart. We didn’t take classes together, eat together or play together. Even brothers and sisters were separated.”

As we walked through the third floor of the four storey building, he pointed to one door, now locked. “This is where the traveling dentist worked from. I gave a tour of this building before and the smell of the dental fluoride came flooding back to me. I asked the others on the tour if they could smell it. It was so strong. I guess that’s my body remembering.”

The school means different things to different people. For some it is filled with difficult memories, others recall the struggle to reclaim the space, and for current students it is a place of learning and empowerment. Thank you to Eric Large, Bernadine Houle-Steinhauer, Harvey Young Chief, Charles Wood and many of the other participants for sharing your knowledge and creating such a positive space.

7 Responses to “Culture and History at Blue Quills”

  1. kaitlinmm Says:

    This is so wonderful and amazing, Naomi! I’m so happy for you, and so lucky to watch your research develop!

  2. n.a. Says:

    Thanks Kaitlin!
    I’m traveling up north now but when I get back I’ll give you a call to catch-up.

    Looking forward to watching your research develop too!

  3. JB Says:

    These images are great Naomi. You are getting so much research done these days! Kudos!

  4. Eric J. Large Says:

    Thank you Naomi for taking the initiative in bridging the gap between the First Nation peoples and Canadians. Keep up the communications, building relationships, and, reconciling past, present, and future challenges.

  5. n.a. Says:

    Thanks, Eric. And thanks for all your help through this process!


  6. […] friend and colleague, Eric Large, recently sent me an interesting article about the missing children who never returned from the […]

  7. […] visits to various former schools, including Portage la Prairie, St. Mary’s, Coqualeetza, and Blue Quills. I have also corresponded with Naomi via e-mail and she kindly offered advice about visiting the […]

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