A ringing refrain of, “Hello Kookum” greets Valerie Parker each day in her classroom at a Thompson, Man., elementary faculty, adopted by hugs from the scholars who come by for a go to at recess.
“I’ve loads of grandchildren right here,” she stated with fun on Friday.
Parker is a kookum, a Cree phrase for grandmother, at Juniper Elementary Faculty. She is neither a trainer nor a counsellor, however does a bit of little bit of each of these roles.
All of her teachings are rooted in her Cree heritage and tradition, from the tea she brews of cedar, wegus and chaga, to the bannock she fries, to the crafts she makes with the children who come by.
“They arrive right here and so they prepare dinner, baking. I educate them stitching, medicines, crafts, the teachings, the seven teachings,” Parker stated.
One woman, 14, who’s in foster care and may’t be named, comes by almost each day to go to her kookum, and wished to make a elaborate scarf and regalia to bounce in.
Over the course of a faculty 12 months they sewed the regalia, together with moccasins, for the woman to put on, Parker stated.
“She’s mainly like my very own mother to me. It’s extra comfy and it’s extra protected right here than my boring class,” the 14-year-old stated.
Parker sees herself as a protected particular person for the kids to return and speak to.
“They want somebody to return and luxury them, and so they by no means need to go to anybody else, however they arrive to me and get that comforting,” she stated.
Parker is considered one of two self-titled kookums in northern Manitoba’s Thriller Lake Faculty Division who’re part of the Mino Pimatisiwin program, which implies the nice life, in response to co-superintendent Lorie Henderson.
“We’re on the lookout for steadiness for our youngsters to have the nice life,” she stated.
Roughly 60 per cent of youngsters within the division are Indigenous, Henderson stated, so this system is a manner to assist them not solely join with their tradition, but in addition obtain help in the event that they want a bit of additional.
“We see our youngsters are coming to highschool and never essentially are the children needing to see a counselor. They’re not essentially needing a prognosis, they’re simply needing someplace the place they’ll have area, they’ll have help, they’ll find out about a few of a few of our tradition,” Henderson stated.
That’s the place the kookums are available in.
Shelley Cook dinner is Parker’s counterpart at Burntwood Elementary Faculty on the opposite aspect of Thompson.
Cook dinner, who shouldn’t be Indigenous however has been adopted into her husband’s neighborhood of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, gives consolation and help for the kids who come into her classroom.
A skilled trainer, Cook dinner makes use of loads of the identical abilities she realized in a classroom in her function as kookum, however says her present function is exclusive.
“If someone wants a smudge, they might come see me. We are able to sort of give them a brand new begin on their day, or in the event that they’ve obtained one thing that’s heavy on their coronary heart, I’ve the time to pay attention,” she stated.
“I do know that residential faculty was a really unkind place to be and that a few of our dad and mom needed to expertise that, and so considered one of my main items is attempting to be sort to the kids and making them perceive how useful and particular they’re.”
The children who work together with Cook dinner study to sing in Cree, play with puppets and stuffed animals, all of the whereas studying in regards to the conventional seven teachings.
Eight-year-old Emersyn Wickdahl says when she comes to go to her kookum it means it’s going to be an excellent day as a result of she loves visiting.
“I simply suppose it’s actually enjoyable to be right here,” Emma Lefevere, 9, added.
Henderson says the division is in search of to recruit different grandparent figures to work in different faculties within the space.
However Cook dinner hopes all divisions will take into account their program.
“I’m fairly positive that if all the faculties might take pleasure in having a grandma round, I feel it will improve their faculty,” she stated.