Curtis Michael, language instructor at the L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom, has been recognized with a Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Award for Language, Culture and Traditions by Indspire.
The award was presented by Indspire Patron His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at the inaugural Awards at the National Gathering for Indigenous Education in Calgary.
Curtis is one of twelve educators from across Canada honoured for their work. Roberta L. Jamieson, President and CEO of Indspire said, “The contributions of all of award recipients honoured here, can be an inspiration to all Canadians. These are people who day in, day out are there for our students, helping them realize their potential.”
In recognizing Curtis, the citation noted:
“Curtis Michael revitalizes the Mi’kmaw language at the Indian Brook First Nation’s L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom School. A language instructor and a fluent speaker, Michael created and uses a picture dictionary with cards as a teaching tool. Students in grades primary to six have fun learning to speak Mi’kmaw while Michael guides their journey of cultural discovery.”
Curtis’s employment of storytelling, humour, song and dance to teach language helps students associate the sound of Mi’kmaw words with oral histories, laughter, music, and movement. He focuses on cultural connections and multiple ways of knowing. He gives students a chance to reclaim Mi’kmaw language, culture, and traditions.
Curtis’s reach goes beyond the Indian Brook First Nation community. He gives presentations throughout the Maritime Provinces at events like the Atlantic Native Teachers’ Education Conference. He conducts educational sessions for the Native Council of Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Symposium, and other First Nation communities.
Last year, Curtis set up a sister school for L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom in Peru. He visited the sister school in the village of Lares and other Peruvian schools to exchange ideas about Indigenous culture.
Curtis has more than 20 years of community service to the Indian Brook First Nation community. He was a GED math tutor, adult language instructor, and a recruitment camp coordinator for First Nation junior high students who showed an aptitude for science.
“His dedication helps ensure that generations of students will have Mi’kmaw language, culture, and traditions to turn to.”
We recently spoke with Curtis about his experience at the Indspire awards and what this nationally-recognized honour means to him professionally, and personally.
Curtis says both his nomination and win came as a complete surprise. “I was pleased, and in a way, sort of puzzled as to why someone would nominate me, because there are many excellent Mi’kmaw Language Teachers here in the Maritimes.”
But everyone who knows Curtis, knows that his work is more than well deserving.
Curtis was nominated by Mrs. Cheryl LeBlanc-Weldon, an elementary teacher who teaches at Porter’s Lake Elementary in Halifax County. Curtis was pulling into his driveway after work when he received a call from Cam Willett of Indspire, informing him that he had won.
“He wanted to know if I was interested in flying to Calgary in March to attend the Gala Dinner Award Presentation, and I forget how many times I said “yes!”,” laughs Curtis. “I’m pretty sure he knew I was going.”
The ceremony, he says, was simply awe-inspiring. Prior to the ceremony, all twelve award winners gathered in a room with Indspire dignitaries, corporate sponsors, and government officials. Curtis said he was approached by a gentleman who asked who he was and where he was from.
It turned out that he knew where Shubenacadie was and Curtis quizzed him to see if he actually did know. “It was during the awards ceremony that I learned that this man I was grilling was the Governor General of Canada, the Honourable Mr. David Johnson,” smiles Curtis.
The experience is one he will never forget. “My wife and I were seated next to the stage and the atmosphere was electric,” he says.
Comedian and Hip Hop artist, Wab Kinew, was the emcee for the night. “He did a wonderful job,” says Curtis. “In fact, while he was introducing me, he struggled with a few Mi’kmaw words (like Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey), and we shared a laugh as I walked by and I gave him a supportive thumbs up.”
Curtis thanks his nominator, Mrs. Cheryl Leblanc-Weldon, for the unforgettable opportunity. He also appreciates the efforts of Mrs. Yolanda Denny of MK, Prof. Anna Saroli of Acadia University, Mrs. Sarah Doucet of LSK, and Mr. Bryson Sylliboy of Indian Brook, for their letters of support.
Curtis says his love of the Mi’kmaw Language stems from many important people in his life. First, his grandparents, Noel and Rita Michael. Also, his grandmother, Margaret ‘Dr. Granny’ Johnson. He also gives credit to his good friend Michael ‘Dude’ Johnson from Eskasoni.
“As teens, Dude taught me many words, phrases and conversational pieces,” says Curtis. “He used humour and exaggerated facial expressions to teach me. I found his method of teaching Mi’kmaw to be very effective.”
His mom, too, he says was a great inspiration to begin teaching. Magdalene Michael’s dedication to teaching youth was seen first-hand by Curtis as her kindergarten student, so it just came naturally to him.
Curtis also credits his aunt Elizabeth ‘Ryan’ Paul for his success in Mi’kmaw language. “She taught me how to read and write Mi’kmaw in the Smith/Francis Writing System,” he says. “I copy her teaching method to this very day.” He also says his wife, Rose, has been a driving force - always giving him verbal encouragement and positive reinforcement.
After a wonderfully busy trip to the city of Calgary, Curtis has returned home to Indian Brook and is back to doing what he loves most - teaching his students at LSK.
“I’ve had my most proud moments at work. The moment that stands out most is when a few years back, I witnessed two Primary students converse in Mi’kmaw with one another. They didn’t see me coming down the steps. They said simple salutations to one another and asked how each other how they were doing.”
“Their homeroom teacher and I were so proud. We both smiled and are very pleased to say that this smile has never been wiped off our faces ever since.”