“This is the Four Elements song,” says Sewepagahan, as she leads the class through the Cree lyrics.
“Niya Askiy, I am Earth. Niya Yotin, I am Wind. Niya Iskloew, I am Fire. Niya Nipiy, I am Water.”
But the disparate elements of the song are nothing, compared with all the culturalelements that come together to form St. Francis of Assisi. Fifty-five per cent of the students at St. Francis of Assisi are First Nations or Métis. Some live in the Balwin and Belvedere areas that line Fort Road. Others are bused in, for the school’s Cree language and culture program.
But the school doesn’t serve just the native community. Forty per cent of the children come from South Sudan. Of the remaining five per cent, some hail from India, from Vietnam, from Ethiopia. According to principal Katherine Dekker, only 16 of the school’s 232 children are neither English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students, nor aboriginal.
In this classroom, on this day, they sing and play together, the Cree kids sharing their drums and rattles and rhythm sticks, helping their non-Cree friends with the words.