Wall of Honouree Pete Chief (BEd'03, MEd'13)
Pete Chief was recognized by the College of Education for his service to the community and his lifetime achievements in education
The College of Education is pleased to recognize Pete Chief (BEd'03, MEd'13) as a 2023 Wall of Honour Alumni Award recipient. Pete was recognized at the Pinning Ceremony and Wall of Honour Celebration on April 3, 2023.
Pete Chief is a member of the Onion Lake First Nation. He was raised by both parents in Onion Lake and continued to live there until he left to pursue post-secondary education at the age of 23. Pete’s first language is Cree. He was raised in the traditional Cree way of knowing and understanding, and began attending cultural ceremonies at a young age. He can still hear his grandparents and parents say to him in Cree, “Don’t ever forget who you are and don’t ever lose your language.”
His pathway to becoming a teacher took a few turns – after completing a land manager course at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, he went on to take an Oil and Gas Land Management program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technologies in Calgary. He worked for a short time in the oil fields, before returning to Saskatoon in 1999 to enrol in the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program in the College of Education.
"When I think back to my university days, one of my professors recognized that English was my second language. That professor recognized that I struggled with my writing but acknowledged that my ideas were strong and that I just needed writing support," shared Pete. "She helped me edit my work for the first two years of university. Another professor valued my traditional knowledge and asked for my perspectives during class time which also continued after I was finished my class and he asked me to be a facilitator. In these two situations, I felt valued as an Indigenous person."
Pete began his career with the Saskatoon Public School Division in 2003 at Westmount Community School teaching the Cree Language and Culture to all grade levels, as well as teaching grades six through eight. As his leadership abilities were recognized he soon was appointed as a vice-principal, serving at John Lake and King George elementary schools. Over the last eight and a half years, Pete has been the vice-principal and subsequently the principal of wâhkôhtowin School, leading the Cree Language and Culture program for the division.
When he was first tasked with teaching the Cree language to his students and discovered there did not exist a curriculum for the Cree language, he reflected on his father’s teachings and the importance of knowing who he was and his language and used that to guide his instruction.
"That afternoon as I was walking home, I began thinking "I speak Cree, but I don't know how to teach it. I called my father and said "How would you teach Cree?" Pete shared in his acceptance speech on April 3.
"He said to me: before you even teach children their language, teach them about who they are. My father knew, and my grandparents, they understood where we were and where we needed to be. This is what we do at wâhkôhtowin School. Children may not be fluent in the language. They speak the language, but they leave the school fluent in who they are."
"The spirit of our language is in us," he added.
Pete is an outstanding educator and exemplary leader who is making significant contributions in the classroom, within the Saskatoon Public School Division, and throughout the community. Pete champions the revitalization of Indigenous languages and culturally responsive practices by engaging Elders, hosting pipe ceremonies, flying the Treaty 6 flag at his school, and collaborating with his community to achieve the goal of establishing the first Cree name for a school in his school division. As a leader he has been able to enact such significant change because he uses his gifts of patience, respect, humour, kindness, understanding, and courage in quiet and respectful ways.
Pete was recognized recently with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee medal in the field of education.