Archived—Muriel Sawyer

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Year: 2009 – Province: Ontario

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Muriel Sawyer

Nbisiing Secondary School
469-B Couchie Memorial Drive
North Bay ON P1B 8G5

Principal: Chris Hachkowski
School Tel.: 705-497-9938
School Fax: 705-497-0389
School Email: nec_admin@nbisiing.com
School Website: www.nbisiing.com

Subjects and Grades Taught: Ojibwe language in grades 9 to 12

Muriel Sawyer is a custodian of language and culture, and an irreplaceable advocate for Aboriginal education. She is also an energetic, good-humoured and skilled administrator and leader who has taught at every level from junior Kindergarten to university in her 35-year career. As well as teaching half time, Muriel is currently the vice-principal at Nbisiing Secondary School, where she has worked since 1998. Nbisiing is a provincially inspected private school that has woven Aboriginal language and culture throughout the curriculum, under the motto "Aboriginal pride, academic excellence."

Teaching Approach

Ms. Sawyer integrates language and culture to provide a meaningful context that allows students to develop language fluency. She also ensures that basic elements of the students' everyday life, such as signs labelling rooms in the school, are in Ojibwe. She encourages students to discover through the Internet and Aboriginal television how the Ojibwe language is used today as well as to find other examples of living Ojibwe culture.

Outstanding Achievements

  • Ms. Sawyer uses a variety of techniques, such as traditional songs and modern translation, to help students become fluent in Ojibwe. She teaches the rhythm of the language and proper sound formation in a way that helps students overcome their shyness or self-consciousness.
  • Her students use technology to record the words of elders and to dramatize and record the re-telling of those stories.
  • Ms. Sawyer's students have gained the skills to carry on her work. They have, for example, learned the proper protocols for inviting elders and spiritual teachers to gatherings at the school and can deliver these in the Ojibwe language. They can also say a blessing and sing "O Canada" in Ojibwe. As a consequence, they are often invited to participate in cultural activities at other schools.
  • Ms. Sawyer is one of a thin line of defenders of the Nipissing dialect of Ojibwe, which only a few people speak fluently. She is recognized as a "Language Keeper" for the community, which is both an honour and a serious responsibility. This status has been acknowledged through a number of awards, such as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Union of Ontario Indians.

Rave Reviews

"Muriel is my mentor. … She encouraged me to pursue my path into the field of education and I feel that her role in this field and in our community is what gives me hope for the rejuvenation of our language. She is a well-respected and strong Anishnaabe woman and I would not be where I am today without her teachings." Former student and current colleague

"Although Muriel talks of retiring, her community and colleagues will not let her go. … To say that there is no other teacher who can work in teaching the language the complex way that Muriel teaches would be an understatement. Some can teach the language but no one can offer the unique delivery and level of understanding that Muriel can offer." Colleague