By Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) recognized the late Victor Thunderchild as an Outstanding Indigenous Educator during their Annual General Meeting last week.

The recognition pays tribute to a teacher who has demonstrated leadership in Indigenous education and excellence in teaching that reflects Indigenous culture.

Thunderchild, who was a teacher and counsellor at Carlton Comprehensive High School, passed away in April, 2021 due to COVID-19. He was nominated for the award by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF).

Friends and colleagues alike thought the recognition was well deserved.

“I think it’s a huge honour for Victor to be recognized as a national leader for Indigenous education and advocate,” Carlton principal Jeff Court said. “I think he is a well deserving recipient. You couldn’t ask for a greater man colleague, friend, teacher and counsellor, and at the end of the day, he was super well deserving of that honour.”

Even though he is gone, Thunderchild was still remembered by the recent Class of 2022.

“We do a staff select at our graduation and there is still a multiple number of kids that are selecting Victor Thunderchild as their most meaningful staff member in their time at Carlton,” Court said. “That just speaks to his legacy.”

Thunderchild taught in Prince Albert for almost three decades. As a teacher and guidance counsellor, he supported students during challenging times and encouraged them to take pride in their culture and heritage. His work was always guided by Indigenous culture as he willingly shared his stories, Cree language, and knowledge.

Victor made numerous improvements in the Saskatchewan education sector, including bringing the first Cree language program to John Diefenbaker School in 2020. That program has grown since it was first introduced, and the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division has continued to expand language programs since then.

He was also a dedicated member of the CTF/FCE Advisory Committee on Indigenous Education.

Kelly Klassen was not only a fellow teacher but also a close friend of Thunderchild’s. Like Court, Klassen said the CTF recognition was well-deserved.

“When he was a teacher at Carlton he was always advocating for Indigenous students and really doing his all to empower kids,” Klassen said. “I was not surprised, and I was very happy for him and his family to be able to have that honour.”

Klassen noted that it was great that Thunderchild was nominated by the STF. Seeing Thunderchild recognized makes it even sweeter.

“He was always doing whatever he needed to do for kids and promoting his culture and that kind of thing,” Klassen said. “He never looked for awards but I think it was great he was honoured by that (CTF recognition).”

Thunderchild was actively involved in the bargaining process for his local association as a longstanding councilor representing the Prince Albert and Area Teachers’ Association (PAATA) and as a STF representative at the Provincial Department of Learning School and Shared Leadership Institute.

He also served as President and Vice-President of Social Studies Saskatchewan, a professional growth network.

“Unfortunately he is not around to get that award, but it’s good to know that he was recognized,” Klassen said.

While in hospital after contracting COVID-19, Thunderchild continued to advocate on behalf of his colleagues to the Government of Saskatchewan through social media.

“You miss him a lot and every time you see these little things come up where he is being recognized for his hard work and the efforts he put into education, it makes you feel really good,” Klassen said.

After his passing in 2021, family, friends and colleagues gathered on social media using #ApplesForVictor to share stories of Thunderchild.

When Carlton held their Indigenous Day in September 2021, they dedicated the day to Thunderchild. On what would have been his 56th birthday, his family presented a Ribbon Shirt to Carlton in October of 2021.

Friends and colleagues have also created the Victor Thunderchild Legacy Scholarship which was presented during graduations in Prince Albert this year.