Yesterday, the new Tustukeeskaws High School in Frog Lake First Nations held its grand opening. A special time for residents of Frog Lake, as it houses the first Provincial Library in an Indigenous community in Alberta.
The grand opening began in Frog Lake First Nations on April 5, at 9:00 a.m. with a Pipe Ceremony held by elders in the community. Band Administrator, Mr. William Quinney, welcomed students, honoured guests, and friends to share in a historic moment for the Indigenous community.
“Today is a very special day,” Quinney said. “We’re gathered here today to celebrate the opening of our new High School.”
The new high school opened to students on September 8, 2021, although the grand opening was held yesterday on April 5. The state-of-the-art building is called Tustukeeskaws after the Chief who signed Treaty 6. The Stanley families in Frog Lake are direct descendants of this Chief. The school will teach Grades 7 to12 with a total of 173 students attending and 32 staff members. It is attached to the Frog Lake Field House which is a large gym.
The building also houses the first provincial library opened in a First Nations community.
“We have a new Frog Lake Library within the school, it is a Northern Lights Library System library,” Glenda Bristow, Director of Education with the Frog Lake Education Authority said. “This is the first provincial library opened in a First Nations community. This library is mobile and is situated inside the huge auditorium located in the centre of the school.”
During the grand opening, Chief Greg Desjarlais took a moment to address students and guests with a special message.
“I want you to open your mind and your heart and believe in yourself,” Chief Desjarlais said. “Because that’s what we have to do is believe in one another. Pick each other up. Don’t put each other down.”
Chief Desjarlais stressed the importance of education to the youth in attendance and said, “You know we go through challenges, we go through tribulations. We go through victories, though defeats, and other tough times as human beings. As young children, you’re the future.”
The Provincial Library has been a long time coming for Frog Lake.
When the First Nation decided to build a new school in 2019, part of the conversation was about multiple uses for the building and the potential to have a dedicated library space inside.
Now that dream and conversation is a reality.
Northern Lights Library System is one of seven regional library systems in Alberta.
Located in Elk Point, NLLS allows member libraries in northeast Alberta to pool their resources and collections, improving access to information and materials across the region. Fifty-four municipalities are members of NLLS including the Town and County of St. Paul, Town of Elk Point, M.D. of Bonnyville, County of Lac La Biche, and the City of Cold Lake.
Having a library in the community will not only improve access to information and knowledge for the people of Frog Lake but also creates a space for people to go to.
“Imagine for 150 years of not being able to have access to digital libraries and there are over 2000 in the province,” Frog Lake First Nation Council Member Clifton Cross said. “There is a multitude of physical books to access, over 300,000 resources, textbooks, engineer diagrams, all your imagination can now be opened up.”
Cross remembers reading at a young age and having to visit the nearest town to take out books.
“Indigenous people have not been recognized in that space and we have not been recognized as a member of Provincial Libraries,” Cross said. “So I challenge all of these students. When I was reading in 2001 when I was 12-years-old. I challenge all of you to start there with Arthur C Clarke, Thomas King, Stephen King, William Shakespeare all at our fingertips, Albert Einstein. We did not have access to those people. We can now dream and have access to resources that for 150 years we were not allowed to exist in our system.”
Frog Lake with the Northern Lights Library System will make sure that the new public library will be connected to the province-wide network to access all the services they have to offer.
After the ribbons were cut to mark the official opening, drummers sang a victory song to commemorate and celebrate new access to state-of-the-art education.