As part of our ongoing work to support our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students and staff, and raising awareness of Indigenous culture in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), the Indigenous Education department is pleased to announce our continuing cultural initiative: the Elder/Knowledge Keeper in Residence Program.
The program consists of First Nations Elders Clayton Shirt and Ester Wesley, and Métis Knowledge Keeper Diane Montreuil. They offer cultural teachings and support.
This program is free. There is no cost to the teacher or school for their visits. The virtual sessions will all take place on Zoom. Once a date and time has been arranged with the Elder or Knowledge Keeper, the teacher will be responsible for coordinating a Zoom meeting.
In Indigenous cultures, Elders/Knowledge Keepers occupy a crucial role in supporting their communities, imparting wisdom, customs, culture, values and lessons through storytelling, sharing, and traditional teachings. Clayton, Ester and Diane have extensive experience working with the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities through their respective cultural teaching.
The presence of the Elder/Knowledge Keeper-in-Residence at TCDSB will help to foster the cultural, emotional and spiritual well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, teachers, administrators, staff and community members. Having contact with them will provide, particularly for Indigenous students, a unique access to personal support.
Be aware that our Elders/Knowledge Keepers-in-Residence are working for the TCDSB on a part-time basis and can only commit to a certain number of visits for the TCDSB, as they have other work outside the board. Each school visit is limited to the following:
Counselling and support for TCDSB FNMI students and/or related family members.
School visits (i.e., classroom talks, opening ceremonies, smudging, and traditional teachings).
Not more than one hour in duration.
One visit per class, not more than 30-35 students.
Be mindful of the Elder/Knowledge Keeper-in-Residence's time, and be respectful of their intentions in sharing their knowledge with your students and school.
Clayton Shirt is an Indigenous Elder, Traditional Teacher and Mentor from the First Nations People. He is from the Wolf Clan of Saddle Lake, Alberta, Treaty 6. Clayton has been working as a Traditional Teacher and Healer for more than 15 years in the Indigenous and multicultural community in Canada. He was taught traditional knowledge, working for many years with the guidance of a number of Anishnawbe Elders (Zaawawagaabo) and other First Nations Elders in Canada and the USA, and taught traditional ceremonies, teachings, circles, one to one work and to help all people to 'walk in a good way' though life.
Presently he works full time for the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and University of Toronto. He has worked for TCDSB, Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Native Canadian Center of Toronto, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, Dodem, NaMeRes, Cancer Care Ontario, RETRAC, the Ontario tobacco research unit at St. Michael's Hospital, TD bank and Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.
Diane has been a Métis Knowledge Keeper and artist for over 30 years. She studied and apprenticed with a number of Indigenous elders, in particular one from the Eastern Cherokee Nation, whom she calls Grandmother. Over the last 20 years, Diane has traveled with her and other Elders and Knowledge Keepers, helping others and sharing her wisdom through participating in and facilitating workshops. She has worked with the TCDSB, TDSB and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Diane is the co-founder of Dancing Deer, an Indigenous craft company focusing on handmade Indigenous arts and crafts. Diane was also part of Manitou Kwe Women’s group. Manitou Kwe means “women spirit singers” and they perform traditional drumming and singing. Diane continues to draw, sketch and paint her original artworks to keep the sacredness of the traditional ways. Her artwork been exhibited in Canada and the USA.
Esther was born and raised in Sachigo Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario. She was raised on a trapline and raised in the traditional upbringing of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation people. Being raised on the land meant that Esther’s early education was built on oral histories and stories, traditions, practices, skills, values, spirituality and environment - all together presenting a holistic picture of interdependence of people and their environment. She was also raised in the Anglican tradition, as her father was an Anglican priest.
As a young teenager, Esther had to leave home to attend high school and post-secondary education. Her teaching career began in the James Bay area. Later on, she taught for a number of years at community colleges in the areas of business administration and Indigenous studies. She spent a few years as a director of the Ojibway & Cree Cultural Education Centre, with her work focusing on cultural studies and language resource and curriculum development.
Upon moving to Toronto, she worked for the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada as a coordinator of the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation. There she travelled across the country working with Indigenous communities, First Nation organizations, churches, church group and schools. The work involved: receiving and processing applications to the healing fund, working with communities on their healing projects, listening, leading presentations on the history of the residential schools, history of colonialism, its impact on individuals, families and communities, working closely with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Esther also worked as anti-racism educator for the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada.
For many years, Esther volunteered working with youth in the church and at a community level, including suicide intervention and prevention. In recognition of her work with the youth, Huron University College presented her with an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree in 2005. First and foremost, Esther is a wife, a mother and a grandmother, and cherishes her role as a grandmother.