Chandrelle Marshall is a collaborative teacher who works with teachers at the grades K to 8 to infuse Métis content and Michif language into their lessons. She works at Westmount Community School in Saskatoon, Sask., and spoke with Canadian Geographic about the importance of community and taking pride in your culture.
On the collaboration aspect of her work
I work with a teacher and we create a unit that is taught through a Métis or Michif perspective. They can pick any curricular area — language arts, science, social studies, physical education — and we incorporate Métis and Michif content, language, values and ways of knowing. I learn from them, they learn from me, and it’s about building relationship. Every year we work with a teacher, they learn, and then next year, they can do that by themselves. They're building their capacity so that as a teacher when they leave the school, and they go to a new school, they're bringing with them, as a non-Indigenous or Indigenous teacher, Métis content, perspectives and Michif language.
On the community connections that make her work possible
A big part of the job is community work. I have a team of teaching partners that I work with and what we do is we go out and we meet with different Métis and Michif organizations. We work with organizations like MNS, Saskatoon Métis Local, Gabriel Dumont Institute publishing section, and Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program. We build our relationships with them and talk with them about what's new and upcoming and they support us as a school.
One of the biggest parts is working with “lii pleu vyeu.” In Michif, that's what we call our old people and our elders. We work with lii pleu vyeu and our speakers to create resources. People like Norman Fleury, Bruce Flamant, senator Nora Cummings, those are the people that helped to guide our program and our community relationships.
I am not the expert. I'm only a technician for my people. I have to pay respect to the fact that they are the ones that know, and I am still a learner. My learning journey has been one of extensive time, dedication and commitment to my culture and my people. My whole journey is all about relationship building because if you do not have a relationship with Métis people, you're just not going to get anywhere. You must have a relationship first and have their blessing and their support before you can go out and be that technician.
On what values are important to Métis culture
Having that sense of cultural pride, hard work and responsibility, perseverance, gratitude and generosity would probably be the biggest values. We’re showing gratitude and generosity to our lii pleu vyeu for how they come and share their knowledge with us. We listen when they speak because they have something to share. My family is urban Métis and we’ve been in Saskatoon for many years. In an urban setting, speaking for myself, that sense of cultural pride and of understanding who we are as a distinct people was something that I was missing growing up. We have our own stories, music, dance, food, customs and traditions, and language. And that's why that community connection is so important, because our parents and their parents have so much to give. How can we work together with home and school to create that sense of pride?
On how they infuse Métis perspectives into learning
For senior students, we do a unit about plants and medicines and just being connected to the land. We work with our speakers and community and take students out on the land, and if we have a chance, we're able to harvest something. Knowing and learning the uses of the plant from a Métis perspective, then knowing the Michif name for those plants, as well as traditional and contemporary uses is really important that when we're teaching students. While we teach about the past, we always bring a contemporary perspective, so that we're not just a historical people, we're also a contemporary people.
Having those opportunities to go on water walks or plant walks, working with our lii pleu vyeu and having them share their knowledge and their experiences, that's where amazing learning happens for students. We're connecting it throughout the generations — we have our old people teaching our young people, and we're able to understand and get connected to the land.
On what resonates with students
I think the biggest thing is we're a multicultural school and we always try and instill for all children to be proud of who they are. What is your language? What is your culture? Where do you come from? When you have a sense of pride of your own culture, you're really able to learn about other cultures and understand that importance and significance. We see newcomers come here and they embrace Métis and Michif culture because they have a rich culture that they have brought with them.
And we love learning about Michif because for students it's like learning your language is a superpower. You cannot teach a culture without the language, and you cannot teach a language without the culture. We rely really heavily on our speakers. It is no secret that our language is endangered and we are at a very integral time where we need to take action. That responsibility really falls on our technicians and our younger folks to be having those relationships with speakers.
We are definitely in a place where a lot of us feel this sense of urgency. We started our early learning program for three- and four-year olds to create a fluent Michif class, so that they can learn at a young age because we know the younger a child is exposed to language, the more retention that they'll have. We got a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of committed people. We, as teachers in Canada, have the responsibility to teach about the Métis and Michif people.