A Lamont teacher has won the 2021 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Michel Blades Bird is a teacher at The Ranch Learning Centre, a school part of Elk Island's Child and Youth Ranch. According to the ranch, many students who attend this school have severe emotional or behavioural issues, do not thrive in a community school setting and are children growing up in government care.
There is a large population of indigenous students who are apart of Bird's classroom and this helped inspire the Keeping Tobacco Sacred Initiative.
While Bird was attending the University of Calgary to finish her masters degree, she took a course called Indigenous Education: a Call to Action. Upon completion of this course Bird was gifted a tobacco plant from her instructor.
Tobacco plants are very symbolic in Indigenous culture. The plant can be used for medicinal, traditional and spiritual celebrations.
After growing it over the summer Bird took the plant into her classroom. Students of Indigenous heritage were interested in connecting with their culture and a higher purpose that involved the use of the plant.
“Our education system is a standardized based system and when you take a look at Indigenous education and indigenous ways of knowing and doing you’re grounding yourself. You're finding a place on the land and connecting yourself to it. That is so important for kids growing up in government care," said Bird.
With this initiative, Bird has found a way to take students through different parts of growing the plant and cross it with the school curriculum.
“It begins with any kind of science lesson. At some point you’re going to learn about growing and plants.”
Bird said the prize money she received from the award will be going to Cree language resources for her classroom.