The kohkum group at Westmount Community School welcomes the community into the school and supports the grandmothers who are playing an important role in the lives of many students.
The inspiration for the group came after school staff saw how many kohkums were directly and indirectly involved in raising their grandchildren.
“It all began by building and forging relationships with our families and knowing our community,” says Principal Nicola Bishop-Yong. “(We wanted to) bring them together in a very welcoming, non-threatening environment that was about forging relationships for them so that they can build their relationship with the school and, ultimately, share their gifts and talents with the community and beyond.”
Faye Maurice, a Métis traditional knowledge keeper, says a big consideration for staff was learning about the ways in which the school could support kohkums. The hope was to bring them together to share experiences, knowledge and support with each other as well as strengthening their bond with the school and its students.
“As with any venture at Westmount it was about breaking barriers, building relationships and bridging the gap,” Maurice says of the group, which was launched during the 2012-13 school year as part of Westmount’s Health Promoting Schools initiative. “It was fun and very encouraging to find out that our kohkums were interested in getting together and spending time to forge friendships. Kohkum group is near and dear to my heart.”
The group provides opportunities for the kohkums to join in social opportunities such as a trip to the Berry Barn or the Festival of Trees, or educational experiences such as a visit to the Breast Centre of Health.
The members of the group strive to develop strong relationships with students, staff, and the wider learning community by sharing the Métis worldview, ways of knowing, being and doing. Westmount is home to Saskatoon Public Schools’ Métis Cultural Program and kohkum Linda Pritchard contributes by regularly visiting the school to help teach students the Michif language.
The kohkums’ group, Pritchard says, has provided her with the chance to embrace her culture, to emerge as a proud Michif woman and to share that pride and cultural knowledge with her grandchildren and others in the community.
“Westmount has made me feel so very proud of who I am. I went to Westmount not knowing who I was and today I am very proud. I’m a Michif . . . these people have made me feel proud,” Pritchard says. “My grandchildren didn’t know they were Michif. My granddaughter is white, and I always made sure they stayed white. My grandchildren are all that colour. They always asked me why I was brown and they were white and I always had to give them a little story. But when I went to Westmount these women (school staff) made me feel very proud to be Michif.”
Marie Pritchard, a Westmount student, says her grandmother is a big part of the school community and plays an important role in sharing her cultural knowledge with all of the students.
“She started coming to the school because of the kohkums’ group. Now she comes to school every week to help the Michif tradition stay alive,” Marie says. ”She helps all the students learn our legacy and helps to keep our language alive. We love having my grandmother and her teachings at Westmount Community School. They are very grateful for the kohkums’ group for making her feel like she belongs and she has so much to share.”