A new memoir from Cecil King outlines how he grew from humble beginnings in a First Nations community to help revolutionize Indigenous education in Canada.
King’s memoir, The Boy From Buzwah: A Life in Indian Education, outlines how King’s path began during his modest upbringing on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve in the 1930s and 40s.
King, who now resides in Saskatoon, said he was largely influenced by older members of his family, along with lessons he learned from nature.
“We lived a very basic life, totally governed by the environment,” he told CBC Radio’s Saskatchewan Weekend.
“We lived with nature pretty well all the time, and that served as our support.”
Saskatchewan Weekend10:42The Boy From Buzwah: A Life in Indian Education
In the memoir, King also describes his experiences attending Buzwah Indian Day School and St. Charles Garnier Residential School.
Although many Indigenous kids were forced to attend residential schools, King said it was also incredibly important to his grandfather that he receive an education.
“I had to go to school. My grandfather was very adamant about that point, and there was no question about whether I should or should not. I just had to go,” he said.
Although his grandfather played a major part of his upbringing, King said it was his grandmother who inspired him to become a teacher.
“She was a teacher herself, and she taught in two Indian schools,” he said.
As a result, King said he “picked up a knowledge of what teaching was all about.”
Changing system from within
In his early days as a teacher, King taught in on-reserve schools.
However, he found the curriculum didn’t adequately engage with Indigenous students, even though he tried to adapt the lessons as much as possible.
He said there was a group of people who felt the same, so he decided to help lead the charge to implement Indigenous education in Canada’s school system — with some added motivation from his grandfather.
“He emphasized I had to do something about that if I am to be a good teacher, and that’s probably how it started.”
King — who worked as an Indigenous educator for more than 60 years — went on to help create curriculum that connected to traditional Indigenous cultures and established First Nation language courses in elementary and secondary schools.
King also founded the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan, he was the first ever director of the Aboriginal Teacher Education at Queen’s University and he developed Ojibwe language courses that have been used across North America.
When asked what he hopes people learn from his book, King said he hopes it helps people realize their potential.
“There’s a greater world beyond where they are and if they’re totally in tune with the environment, then there’s hope.”
The book was published by the University of Regina Press.