Learning with Saa'Kokoto | STS's First Nation Elder-in-Residence

Learning with Saa'Kokoto | STS's First Nation Elder-in-Residence

“From his table in the STS Black Watch Bistro, Kainai Elder Saa’kokoto gazes out at the snow-covered fields and treeline beyond. It’s currently -29 degrees celsius on a sunny December morning, and he has taken a short break from the classroom to discuss his new role as First Nation Elder-in-Residence at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School.

“What I really find amazing about rural schools is it’s a whole different culture. Different relationships. A whole different environment. And that’s what I’m really finding incredible at this time.”

A teacher, historian, storyteller, and visual artist - Saa’kokoto is providing STS students with a deep understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture. His lessons carry a wealth of first hand experience, drawn both from his years as a business leader in his community and as an ambassador of his culture. “I learned a lot about the people, the land. I come from the largest First Nation in Canada which is Kainai west of Lethbridge, and we have two elementary schools, a middle school and high school, and our own college. In my last term in office, I taught a course there at the college and it was accredited through the University of Lethbridge. It was on governance - (a concept) that I could share.” 


“It was a real eye opener,”  he continues, “that I need to share the information that I have, because of all the information and the experience that I gained in those 24 years of being in leadership…meeting some amazing people. I’ve had some amazing experiences in my lifetime. So this is why I wanted to share.”


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As the cornerstone of our school’s ongoing commitment to Reconciliation, Saa’kokoto’s relationship with STS began with a chance meeting during a visit to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, where he serves as a historical and cultural interpreter and guide. Welcoming a traditional Knowledge Keeper and Elder to our campus means that we are continuing to create profound opportunities for our students and teachers to learn, grow, and connect. This special relationship is a beautiful example of how STS is actively working towards a more equitable and inclusive society.


In addition to advising STS in the proper acknowledgement of Orange Shirt Day, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and other actions, Saa’kokoto shares traditional stories, songs, poetry, visual arts lessons, and teachings with students of every grade from K-12, including guiding students in developing graphic novels telling traditional Blackfoot stories, and sharing lessons from Na’a (Mother Earth) on nature walks in science class. He is making long-term impacts by  helping our teachers and staff to share and celebrate Indigenous teachings and history as part of our broader curriculum.


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When asked what activities he has enjoyed so far during his time at STS, Indigenous Veteran’s Day, traditionally celebrated on November 8th, stands out in particular. This lesson provided a wonderful opportunity to utilize the STS campus in order to illuminate what may have been a little-known chapter of First Nations history just a few short years ago. “I did some lessons in getting all the material from the land, and (the students) made some wreaths. They made them themselves, and they were presented at the celebration. And to acknowledge the contributions that have been made to society by the (Indigenous) Veterans themselves…I found the school really embraced that, really embraced that celebration.”


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With winter well underway, he also expresses his appreciation of how STS has adopted his teachings on the winter solstice. “I can feel this energy in the air, especially where we are, about the importance of the seasons, and sharing those stories. And why it’s so important to acknowledge the earth, the air, the sky, and the universe, because that’s all connected when we deal with those celebrations. That’s what makes this a fantastic place to be, especially with the students.”


Saa’kokoto hopes that the knowledge he has bestowed upon STS will continue to inspire students to shape the world and lead to a better understanding between cultures. “Once you spark that interest, it’s the students that bring that information home. For example, a conversation they have at the kitchen table. And that’s where everything begins. Because they are the ones that bring information. They are the ones that are the teachers.”


“Even from this morning the class that I was in, just the response that I get from the students, their reaction, that’s what makes my day. As long as I see them smiling when I’m leaving the classroom, then we did something that day.”


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