Annual General Meeting 2018

2018 CTF Awards

Outstanding Indigenous Educator Award recipient Buck integrates First Nations perspectives into science

By Shayna Lewis

 ​The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) has awarded Wilfred Buck with the 2018 Outstanding Indigenous Educator Award, something that made him somewhat incredulous upon hearing the news.

“I was quite shocked,” said Buck, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba. “I didn’t think much of it until I received the call, and I didn’t believe it at first.

“But people are starting to take notice.”

Buck has been greatly impacting First Nations students for many years, but did not have a smooth road in getting to that point. Having spent much of his youth in foster homes, Buck began living on the streets at the age of 14. It was during this time, in Western Canada, that he had also become a heavy user of alcohol and drugs.

He eventually returned to traditional ceremonies, and decided to leave this lifestyle at age 29. At the time, Buck also had a grade 7 education.

“I sobered up, and went back to school,” he shared, stating that he finished every grade level from 8-12 in an intensive two-year span at an adult school.

Buck was then encouraged to pursue a university degree, and he went on to receive a Bachelor and Post-Baccalaureate of Education from the University of Manitoba. He has since taught on several First Nations reserves at grade levels ranging from early elementary to late secondary school.

When asked to recount one of his high points as an educator, Buck recalled his election to an eight‑person committee which founded the Children of the Earth High School in 1991. 

“[The committee] spearheaded a cultural-based high school in Winnipeg,” he explains.

In addition to his committee membership, Buck helped create the curriculum that the school would use. His wife, Connie, is also a teacher at the school, further solidifying his connection with its creation. 

Buck currently works as a Science Facilitator at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, where he teaches sky and star knowledge from a First Nations perspective. The use of tools like a portable planetarium help illustrate these teachings using an engaging and interactive approach. His work has provided him with opportunities to travel across North America, Central America, and Europe. 

“I got a call from the Planetarium in New York City – at first, I thought somebody was pulling my leg!” he said with a laugh.

But hardships and adversities continue to manifest themselves, as Buck has seen first-hand how elusive certain resources can be in First Nations communities.

“The greatest challenges in education is the colonial oppression, and how deeply engrained it is in my people,” he discussed. “There is also a strong underfunding in First Nations education.”

Buck hopes for a future where First Nations funding can be “up to par” with schools across North America, and includes the establishment of a First Nations education system. He stressed how the system must address the needs of its students, and that the value of a culturally based education cannot go understated.

The teachings of educators like Buck spark life into both lessons and pupils. 

“I have worked with students for the majority of my life,” he said, “it was natural to gravitate towards education.”

© 2020 Canadian Teachers’ Federation