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Elder Char Connects Children to Culture

To make sure they stay connected to their cultures, the Ministry of Social Services offers cultural programming to children and youth in care while their parents work towards bringing them home. Elder Char Ross leads this work by sharing knowledge and teachings through Indigenous arts and culture.

Char works in Regina and is a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation. She first met representatives from the ministry at her grandmother’s group at Prairie Spirit Connections and was invited to share her cultural teachings with children in care of the ministry. This meant that she officially became an elder.

Elder Char Ross leading ceremony during Orange Shirt for Social Services staff.

“If you’re asked by a community to come out and to support them in any way, you become an elder,” she said. “As an elder, there is a lot of responsibility. It’s quite an important title to have.”

A talented artist, Char shares her knowledge by encouraging children to work on creative projects.

“My job is to work with young clients in care and give them some cultural teachings so they can learn how important they are, and that they’re part of a bigger whole,” she said.

She teaches concepts like the eagle feather, treaties and the medicine wheel, and then helps her young students bring these ideas to life through colouring, painting and crafts.

“The medicine wheel helps us focus on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual parts of the child,” she said. “It gets them comfortable with finding out where they’re at in the four domains of the wheel.”

In addition to her work in the classroom, Char also visits Hope’s Home where she reads stories and sings songs to children with disabilities. After learning a Lakota lullaby for the children at Hope’s Home, Char re-connected to her Lakota language and later learned Cree.

Elder Char Ross performs a smudge.

Char is also involved with the ministry’s Team of Indigenous Employees Saskatchewan (TIES). The group empowers Indigenous employees to come together, incorporate cultural practices in the workplace, offer support to each other and bring forward ideas to improve the ministry’s work.

“As First Nations people, it’s important to be represented in policy making to help our children in care of Social Services,” she said.

As part of TIES, Char leads smudges at the Social Services office each week.

“Smudging in our ceremonies is very important,” she said. “It’s a good way to start and end our day, and we invite everyone to come in, smudge and pray together.”

As an Elder, Char understands the important role that she has in her community and the ministry.

“It's important that our children have strong foundations, so they know who they are and about their ceremonies so they’re able to become a whole person holistically,” she said.

Through sharing her knowledge and teachings, she is making an incredible impact on the lives of the children and youth she works with each day.

“When they leave [my classroom], they’re happy, excited and proud to show off what they’ve been working on,” she said. “As an elder and teacher, I see the growth in these children and the pride that they have in themselves.”

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