Watersmeet School District continues Indigenous knowledge initiative

As soon as you walk through the doors of the Watersmeet Township School, Ojibwe language and teachings are everywhere to be seen.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 10:53 PM EDT
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WATERSMEET TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - As soon as you walk through the doors of the Watersmeet Township School, Ojibwe language and teachings are everywhere to be seen.

“Now walking through the school, I see Indigenous visibility,” Watersmeet Township School Board Vice President Lisa McGeshick said.

This school year, the district adopted a framework to introduce Anishinaabe teachings and culture throughout the entire school curriculum.

The district hired First Nations tribal consultant Ricky White of North Dakota to help lead the program. The group adopted a resource guide at first for social studies but learned there was more to take away.

“Looking at that resource guide, what we found was that it can be inclusive in all topics, all subjects in the school,” McGeshick said. “The wigwam is math and science.”

The superintendent of the school, George Peterson, said now that the academic year is done, there is concrete proof the program is working.

“We had a 100% graduation rate this year, which was awesome,” Peterson said. “Attendance is better, and our honor roll was up nine from this last period.”

The second and third graders put everything they learned into two books.

“They are talking about things like the boarding schools and the orange shirt day,” Peterson said. “If they have that knowledge down in second and third grade and they’re talking about Pow Wows and what they’re all about, that’s proof right there. The proof’s in the pudding that we’re reaching these children young.”

James Williams, the Tribal Chairman for the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said he is happy to see the tribe working hand in hand with the district.

“I’m a student from here,” Williams said. “I graduated from here. I grew up in this community and to really see the progress that the school is making with the tribe has been a wonderful experience for me and it’s been a long time coming. As a school grows, we want to grow and understand each other as well.”

The district hopes to continue the program for years to come and encourages any school district looking to adopt a similar program to reach out.

The initiative is also receiving statewide recognition through the Department of Education, Office of Indian Education. McGeshick says it serves as a perfect example of how the state, school districts and tribes can work together.