101 Airport Road, Edmonton
When it was built in the mid-1970s, the building at 101 Airport Road was a passenger terminal for the City Centre Airport. But in 2003, architectural firm Manasc Isaac turned the former terminal into a culturally appropriate space for the amiskwaciy Academy, Canada’s first high school that incorporates Cree teachings. The design is based on input from Elders, students and education professionals.
The Alberta Teachers Association recognized that Aboriginal students were graduating high school at very low rates. In response, Alberta Education worked with community leaders and created a curriculum that incorporates Cree and Blackfoot culture and language into the provincial curriculum; that curriculum is available at many schools in the province.
But the Edmonton School Board decided to go a step further: they rented office space and opened the amiskwaciy Academy in September 2000 with the goal of improving graduation rates among Aboriginal students. At the core of their philosophy is honor for Cree language, values, ancestral knowledge and traditions.
Amiskwaciy is the Cree word for “beaver hills” and reflects the traditional name the Cree used for the Edmonton area: beaver hills house.
The academy transferred to its current building on Airport Road in September 2003. While the majority of students are First Nations, Metis and Inuit, the school welcomes students from all cultures.
Like any high school, amiskwaciy offers vocational and arts programs that prepare students for a career or university. Intermural sports, health programs and a breakfast program ensure that students’ physical health needs are met. Clubs and extracurricular activities give students the opportunity to explore their interests with their peers.
But it is the cultural and spiritual teachings that are part of daily life at the school that set amiskwaciy off from other high schools. Elder Francis Whiskeyjack uses Cree teachings to help students regain their cultural identity. Traditional ceremonies and spiritual practices like sweat lodge ceremonies are supplemented by daily drumming and singing in Cree.
There is room in the original plans for amiskwaciy to expand as the Blatchford Development take shape. A garden, sports facility and space for traditional ceremonies will eventually become part of the neighbourhood.