The kitchen table of Bruno and Judile Martell in Waterhen Lake First Nation was a busy place, the way their grandson Keith Martell portrayed it.
Grandchildren, some of whom were being raised by Bruno and Judile, always had a place to call home and never went hungry. Keith described his grandparents as strong Catholic Indigenous people who found their religion and Indigenous heritage and traditions complementary.
It’s little wonder why those important people and memories are prominent in the recently announced gift of $650,000 from Keith and his wife Cathy toward the soon-to-be-built replacement facility for St. Frances Cree Bilingual School.
Keith, President and CEO at First Nations Bank of Canada, and Cathy are directing their gift toward three important parts of the new school:
- the Bruno & Judile Martell First Nations Child and Family Wellness Centre,
- māskīkīwi-mīcōwin Kitchen, and
- mamatāwi-maskīkīya Greenhouse.
A former student of St. Frances himself (before it had Cree language and cultural programming), Keith stated he wants students at St. Frances to be prepared and have opportunities. “If you’re prepared for things—you have the right education, you have the right training, you have the right skills and experiences—you can take advantage of opportunities.
“School is all about that. School prepares kids for the future, prepares them for lots of different futures, so they can go on to a life of opportunity.
“Opportunity is where you exercise your preparedness. For Indigenous students, many are not given the opportunity they deserve because of who they are. They are often perceived to not have the right family or connections, or are seen to be less than.”
Keith sees that changing. “Indigenous people are starting to take their place in society as they always should.” He observes more Indigenous people on work sites and various places of employment. He cites his admittedly “totally unscientific” theory of seeing more Indigenous people at places like Costco as the result of preparedness and opportunity. “That’s what this school supports, the expectation that Indigenous people belong everywhere.”
When students walk through the doors of St. Frances, they see Indigenous teachers and staff. They see people like them who have prepared themselves and taken advantage of opportunities that were presented. They feel more comfortable and confident. “If you give kids the chance to succeed, they’ll take it.”
Funding the wellness centre (clinic); a kitchen that will allow students, families, partners and staff to visit and share food; and a teaching greenhouse will give students the chance to succeed at one of the most fundamental levels.
The Government of Saskatchewan funds construction of new schools, but various aspects of schools, such as the wellness centre, specialized learning spaces, cultural spaces, or playgrounds, are not funded.
“If you put these sorts of things on a briefing note to the Minister of Education, these things are not viewed as fundamental to education, they are just extras, but I don’t see it that way. I think they are fundamental to the development of the whole student.”
Having a full belly is a starting point to being prepared to learn, according to Keith. He also spoke of Cathy’s family growing up, where there was an abundance of fresh garden food so everyone could eat well and share their lives around the table.
“The fact this is for a Catholic school would be significant to my grandparents. I’m sure they’re happy about this new school,” Keith reflected on the significance of naming the wellness centre in his grandparents’ honour. “They witnessed first-hand the horrors of what the Catholic church did to some Indigenous communities. I can picture the pain in the eyes of my grandmother and grandfather when it came to their own children, and I think that was a realization of what residential schools did to their kids. So I think this is just making it whole. They would be proud of the kids going to this Catholic school instead of being worried about what it’s going to do to them. And so I think it’s just a full circle; their names really belong in this school.”
Construction of the St. Frances Cree Bilingual School on the corner of 7th Street and Grosvenor Avenue, which will bring together all students currently attending at two different St. Frances locations, is slated to begin in the fall of 2022. The scheduled opening is fall 2024.
For more information on St Frances Cree Bilingual School, visit www.gscs.cs/fra.