STAR Learning Day featured in ACSTA Dimensions


STAR Catholic's Learning Day focused on First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture and history has been featured in the recent edition of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association's Dimensions magazine. The full edition is available at

The story can also be read below:

STAR Catholic’s massive FNMI Learning Day puts focus on relationships,
culture and understanding

More than 60 sessions for over 400 staff held in division-wide event

Vince Burke
STAR Catholic


Partnerships have been strengthened and lines of communication opened among STAR Catholic staff and local First Nations partners, following a historic professional development day.

In conjunction with Orange Shirt Day, which recognizes victims of residential schools, St. Thomas Aquinas Roman (STAR) Catholic School’s held its annual Division-wide Learning Day for more than 400 staff Sept. 29 at St. Augustine School in Ponoka, with a focus on First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture and history.

“It was a timely session, and our teachers were really open to learning about FNMI culture,” said Chris Zarski, STAR Catholic Director of Instruction and Staff Development.

STAR Catholic’s FNMI Learning Day, saw more than 60 sessions and presentations led by First Nations leaders from the bands making up Maskwacis, as well as from Edmonton Catholic Schools, the Maskwacis Cultural College, and Maskwacis Museum. The sessions varied from blanket exercises that give a powerful illustration of Indigenous people’s history, since European settlement to elder-led discussions, to a sweat lodge ceremony.

All aimed at increasing understanding of Indigenous culture and improving academic outcomes for FNMI students in STAR Catholic, Learning Day saw recently forged partnerships come together with a common focus.

“We began a partnership a short time ago with Nipisihkopahk Education Authority in Samson Cree Nation and Miyo Wahkotowin in Ermineskin Cree Nation,” said Dr. Troy Davies, Superintendent. “Shared learning experiences have grown from those initial meetings and we are excited to see how this relationship will strengthen as we move forward, but are overwhelmed by the success and the openness that was witnessed at Learning Day.”

There is a connection between Catholic education and Indigenous traditions, especially in regards to God and devotion to faith, and it’s something keynote speaker Gary Gagnon spoke to. 

“How lucky we are to be able to talk about Creator, about God. How lucky we are to be able to teach young minds, but above all young hearts, about faith. I think we really do have a true opportunity to form beautiful human beings. When they need these tools, they’ll have that sense of spirit,” said Gagnon, who also serves as Edmonton Catholic School District Cultural Facilitator.

Much of the conversation through the many sessions touched upon reconciliation, as Dr. Davis led the day by reading Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology, on behalf of the Government of Canada, for the Residential Schools system.

“As much as we can acknowledge the past, we can never forget it, but how do we move forward? It’s a day like this. It is opening up to the communities around us,” said Gagnon.

Zarski said that in the weeks since Learning Day, feedback has been positive as staff are ready to continue learning more about Indigenous culture and find ways to authentically incorporate it in the classroom. 

“There was a real energy throughout the day. It’s an energy our staff have taken back to their schools,” she said. “Elders and presenters have also told us that it’s the first time they have sat down in a non-formal way with teachers and shared. And, that relationship is one that has been a good start for teachers too, as many now feel better prepared to bring an elder into the classroom to share these stories and culture with students.”

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