The Faces Behind the Northern Lifestyles Class

Project: Building Community

If you ask Teacher Christine Ravenis what makes Churchill Community High School’s Northern Lifestyles class a success, her answer is simple – Creator, community and connections. “The success of this class does not come from me” she says, “It is what it is because of the Creator’s blessing, our community’s support and the connections and partnerships that we have cultivated over time.”

It might come as a surprise that Christine has not always been a Northerner. Born and raised in California, she ended up at University in Saskatoon and eventually settled in Northern Saskatchewan, graduating from the Northern Teacher Education (NORTEP) program. Christine has turned that anomaly into an asset rather than a barrier. After 32 years in northern Saskatchewan, she now speaks and teaches the Cree language. She also works alongside and relies on the guidance and support of Elders and other traditional knowledge keepers in the community, which enrich the class beyond what one person could provide. Though there are many connections who give a grounding in different aspects of the class, the main sources of guidance are Elders Ray Masuskapoe and Ida Tremblay. “I consult them about many things: when individual youth are facing challenges, what to focus on in teaching, what is the most appropriate way to teach things, proper protocol – we talk all of the time” she says, describing these important relationships. It is a very important part of the class to have a female and male Elder available for the students as well.

Ray, his wife Kathy and Christine first met due to their mutual love of horses, and ended up forging a strong relationship over thirteen years. Ray is the male Elder for the Northern Lifestyles students. He’s a spiritual man who offers teaching and guidance to students. The class travels to his acreage to gather sacred medicines in season and he visits often to teach various components of the Northern Lifestyles class. He has taught drum and rattle making and ceremony protocols while also assisting in guiding trips such as Winter Shelter Survival camping and the annual Fall and Spring canoe trips. He sees taking students out on the land as very important, “it pushes them into survival mode” he says, “and when you get into it you find that peace with yourself.” For Ray, guiding the Northern Lifestyles class is a chance to give back and share the teachings he’s been gifted with.

Ida has also had a long relationship with Christine, acting as a mentor in many traditional skills. Ida used to be the cultural teacher, and later the ‘kohkom in residence,’ at Gordon Denny – the local elementary school. Ida grew up on the trapline in the area around La Ronge and has a wealth of wisdom and skills to share. She’s also an amazing storyteller and will have you hooked after just a few lines of her tale. As one of the students put it “You could learn so much from kohkom Ida, she’s such a sweet old lady. She has lots of stories to share and they’re amazing. She went through a lot and likes to share. Some of it is mostly great advice for later in life.” Students in the Northern Lifestyles class benefit from her guidance in many areas including men and women’s roles, as well as a wide variety of sewing projects and hide work.

Along with a group of other local experts and agencies, these three leaders weave together a full program that gives students the skills, knowledge and, most importantly, community connections that they will need to carry forward the traditions of their community.

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