Treaty 4 News in partnership with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner proudly present the Ones 2 Watch. For the next 10 weeks we will present 10 individuals who are making an impact in their communities, making career moves and making people take notice of their impressive accomplishments.

This week we focus on Belinda Daniels, the new interim president of the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre.

Belinda Daniels focused on revitalizing Indigenous Language across Canada 

by NC Raine

It’s not often that a person in their profession can claim to be one of the 50 best in the world. It’s even rarer that an organization as distinguished as the Varkey Foundation recognizes you for your excellence.

That is exactly the distinction earned by Saskatoon teacher Belinda Daniels.  Daniels, a First Nations member of Nehiyaw origin, was one of the 50 educators, of 8,000 applicants, short-listed for the million dollar Global Teacher Prize, dubbed as the ‘Nobel Prize of teaching’. The prize is awarded to an outstanding pioneering teacher who has widespread impact. Daniels was the only Canadian woman nominated for the award.

“When I got the email that I was one of the nominees, I was blown away. I had to read the email twice. I was overcome with joy and gratitude,” she says.

Daniels, who is currently on leave to pursue a PhD in interdisciplinary studies, was teaching at Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon at the time of the nomination. As a teacher of Indigenous studies, Cree language, and history, she believes as Canadians we have a responsibility to learn about every aspect of our nation’s roots – even though colonialism has tended to make the history books one sided.

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“I’m about language revitalization and preservation. I’m about Indigenous knowledge and being a voice for Indigenous peoples. I’m about resistance when it comes to the colonial agenda in schools and in the curriculum. I’m always asking questions and challenging the system,” says Daniels.

It’s that attitude of refusing to be complacent which sets Daniels apart. She not only educates on indigenous history and culture, but she works to ingrain in her students practices of language, oral history, and shared storytelling, encouraging her students to become active participants in these traditional teachings.

“I love seeing the light bulbs going off in my students eyes,” she says. “When an idea goes off in their mind and they finally understand one of these concepts or issues, I feel empowered. It’s like synergy when you click with your students.”

Daniels has also established a summer camp, the Nehiyawak summer language workshop, which is in its 12th year. Daniels describes it as a “language learning playground”, created as a way to fill an absence in the area.

“There was no way of accessing a [Cree language program] so I created it myself. We have people from all over the world and Canada who come to learn.”

Creating a more inclusive Canada which accurately reflects all of our people is a core philosophy in all of her work.

“People can go to France or Germany and learn the native languages, but here, there’s very few opportunities to do that. And there shouldn’t be. We should have pockets of where our language is flourishing,” she says.

“I wish we could jump across every territory and have access to all different languages.”

As if these endeavours weren’t enough, Daniels acts as the interim president at the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre [SICC], created how to speak Cree TV segments, works with the Ministry of Education in developing Core Cree into the curriculum, and lectures at Canadian universities.

Perhaps this determination to better her circumstance and that of her people relates to her childhood, where she grew up in Sturgeon Lake, amidst conditions she calls “third and fourth world”; hauling water as a young girl because the community had such poor infrastructure.

“This is why I value hard work. I’m willing to go that extra mile. Hard works makes you appreciate what you have,” says Daniels.

With SICC and her various roles in education, she hopes to not only honour Indigenous languages and culture, but honour her ancestors commitments made during treaties.

“We were supposed to have our own systems of learning.  We were supposed to have our languages and customs intact, and our traditions instilled. This is one of my dreams – our own systems and schools of learning,” says Daniels.

“Organizations and allies need to work in solidarity and put pressure on our systems and the people in power.”

And although the Global Teacher Prize ultimately was awarded in March to Hanan Al Hroub, a Palestinian teacher, Daniels will continue to have an immeasurable impact on both her students and her country.

“I’ve always been a warrior at heart,” she says.

“I [teach] because it feels good. I feel that my spirit is dancing, I’m in tremendous joy when I’m doing my work. So obviously, this is my purpose.”

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