Annual General Meeting 2018

2018 CTF Awards

Avid storyteller Bearhead earns Indigenous Elder Award

By Shayna Lewis

Nakota Elder Wilson Bearhead was named the second-ever laureate of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Indigenous Elder Award, something which had prompted him to enter deep contemplation.

It is immediately apparent how heavily Bearhead values teaching.

“Reflecting on my responsibilities to give structure to young people in becoming teenagers, that’s what inspired me to pursue education,” he shared.

Bearhead served as a former ceremonial koashka tayzun (traditional helper) in the Wabamun Lake First Nation community in Central Alberta. He has led in several roles including Paul Band community Chief, Treaty 6 Grand Chief, and the Assembly of First Nations regional Chief, heading the management of the youth portfolio.

When Bearhead had first moved to the Sherwood Park hamlet near Edmonton, nobody knew who he was in that community. Fast forward two-and-a-half years, and he has become a dearly beloved figure.

“Everyone knows Elder Bearhead now,” he recounted, “kids yell out of car windows ‘Elder Bearhead!’, they come up to me, and I get to meet parents of all cultures.”

One of his preferred methods of teaching is done by taking students on nature walks—something inspired by his grandmother, who had taught Bearhead about the bond with Mother Earth.

“Everything you see has a spirit, to help you and others live in this world,” he divulged, “a lot of people are disrespectful to trees and animals, because they only see them in one way.”

Bearhead has witnessed the powerful impact that physically walking through the forest has had on his students.

“They love the nature walks,” he said, “They are learning more and adapting their knowledge. They’re learning differently.”

Having taught across public, Catholic, and First Nations school boards, Bearhead has noticed some palpable differences in student perspectives, depending on the community from which they come.

“Understanding the language allows you to learn so much about life,” he mused. “In the non-Indigenous schools, many didn’t know who or what the First Nations were, or how to view us.

“We’ve lived in the same part of the world for over 200 years, and they don’t know how to act around us.”

Bearhead revealed that there is no curriculum to teach about First Nations in schools, thus there are no books or official points of reference he can use to prepare his lessons, which can last up to 80 minutes in length.

Hence, Bearhead immensely values the art and practice of storytelling, having been heavily impacted by his own family’s history in the residential school system. 

“I didn’t realize the stories of the elders, and feeling so lost in the world you had once known,” he said.

“This country once belonged to the First Nations people, but we need more storytellers to lift up others and to believe in themselves and who they are.”

He disclosed that unveiling such stories has allowed First Nations and non-First Nations communities to discover commonalities with one another. The result has encouraged people to treat each other with kindness and “take care of this world in the best way that we can.”

The Indigenous Elder Award is an honour that Bearhead wants to share with his wife, children, and family.

“I think [the Award] a great thing. People want to hear our stories.” 
© 2020 Canadian Teachers’ Federation