For the last two years Lacey Eninew has been using theatre arts to Indigenize coursework at the Senator Myles Venne School in La Ronge.

“It’s like these arts breathing life back into these old ways of knowing,” said the 32-year-old drama teacher. “Let’s look at how we form relationships first of all.”

Eninew who currently uses imagery, puppetry and a variety of games to engage her students in their learning says that kinship is the most important thing in Indigenous education.

“If I find something is not working I’m quick to go on a different track,” said the IPHRC Community Research Associate, who works with students in grades five to 12. Eninew says it can be a challenge planning the curriculum because it constantly changes based on the needs and interests of her students.

Eninew’s research and work is affiliated with IPHRC’s Aboriginal Youth Healing Through the Arts Project.

Eninew is Cree from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in northern Saskatchewan. She earned her education degree in 2008 from University of Saskatchewan’s Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) and since then has taught in the North.

She says her work doesn’t exactly “fit into any box.”

“The arts are so fluid and inspiration can come through any person through any art form,” she said. “Anyone is a conduit of this wisdom. You just have to be open to it.”

Her goal in this IPHRC community based research project was to increase learning and engagement in a positive and productive way so Eninew created a space for her students to explore the arts and do just that.

So far she says, the feedback has been positive. “They like the games. They like it because it’s stress-free, it’s laid back. It’s fun,” said Eninew.

She feels that sharing the knowledge of arts and connecting with students and youth is a very important concept. “You can use words, you can use images, you can use sounds and you can go in any direction as long as your message has your heart behind it,” she says about Indigenizing classroom space.

The Cree teacher feels one of her biggest responsibilities in educating students is instilling a sense of pride in who they are. Eninew often tells her students “be proud of being Native because it’s a great thing.”

“Every conversation I try to drive home the fact that ‘You guys are Aboriginal, you guys made it. Be proud.’ Because when I was that age I was ashamed of being Native,” she revealed.

She says a university education helped her to overcome the oppression of colonialism, especially learning the hard facts in her Indigenous studies courses at University of Saskatchewan. “They (colonizers) tried to make us extinct. We’re here today because of the prayers of our ancestors,” she declared.

The Cree teacher believes that assuming a researcher has all the answers is the wrong approach. Instead, she says it should be the community telling the researcher what needs to be done or changed. “If you don’t have enough respect to engage the people in dialogue before offering to help them, then that’s colonialism,” said Eninew.

“You have to build relationships to get any meaningful data,” said Eninew. “That’s the thing about this research that is really ground-breaking, is really cutting edge for Indigenizing research. You’re not taking anything from the community without giving something back, but there’s a relationship, you build a relationship first.”

In the future Eninew wants continue her work within language revitalization and culture. “I think that’s really the base of it is building relationships,” she says of the northern IPHRC research project, which is coming to an end this June.

She says reviving the Cree language is something that she is looking forward to in the near future. The La Ronge woman feels that mixing contemporary arts and traditional knowledge “speaks to the younger generation.”

“Its something that reaches back into our history but also something that reaches into our future,” said Eninew, who also uses spoken word as a positive outlet for self-expression.

“I asked this one kid: “What’s one thing that would keep you coming to school? And he wrote: ‘If schools taught kids how to love themselves and why it’s important.” And to me that is on the path of the paradigm shift that we need to take,” said Eninew.

She says facilitating activities for students helps them learn on their own. “They’re actually physically being guided through these emotions.”

“You have to guide them into experiences to where they’re learning it themselves,” said Eninew.

“So that’s the thing about this research project that’s like really cutting edge,” she added. “There’s a shift that needs to happen and the work that we’re doing right now is part of the beginning of that shift.”

“We definitely need people to start changing policy,” she said. “Our education system needs a huge paradigm shift.”

For more information about Lacey's work with IPHRC, please contact:
Wendy Whitebear
Research Coordinator
(306) 337-2461
wendy.whitebear@uregina.ca