If Confucius was correct when he said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life," Rita Bouvier (BEd'75, MEd'84) has been very fortunate in her career. And the Métis educator is being recognized for her efforts with an Indspire Award for education.
A passion for reading and learning was evident at an early age. "My grandfather would tease me that's how I came into the world, with a book. I was always reading," said Bouvier. Things haven't changed—her bookcases are overflowing, and she has written or contributed to several books, including poetry.
Her interests do not end at learning. Bouvier recalled a story, "My cousin Josie and I could hardly wait for school to be over so we could start the day all over again with our own school. We used to conduct school in this little shed our grandfather had. We would enrol all of our cousins, brothers and sisters in our school and have such fun."
It is more than a childhood tale or memory. For Bouvier, a lifelong educator, it is the story of how "teaching had chosen" her from a young age.
Raised by her maternal grandparents in Ile-a-la-Crosse, a small village in northwest Saskatchewan, Bouvier was taught the value of family and community at an early age. "My grandfather taught me the value of relatedness with my brothers and sisters. He taught me I was rich because we always had lots of family around." said Bouvier.
Bouvier moved away from her family to attended high school in Prince Albert. Her time there allowed for a smooth transition to university life in Saskatoon. "I didn't know what I wanted to take [at university]; I just wanted to be ‘normal.' My best friend registered for Arts and Science through St. Thomas More, so I did too. Soon, she went into education, and I did the same thing." A path that, in hindsight, was only natural.
After a handful of years teaching in a classroom, Bouvier became involved in the development of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teachers Education Program (SUNTEP)—a partnership between the U of S and the Gabriel Dumont Institute to train Métis teachers—and subsequently became director of the program. (read more about SUNTEP and watch alumni talk about SUNTEP and ITEP)
For two decades, Bouvier worked with the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation before returning to the U of S campus as coordinator of the Canadian Council on Learning's Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre, a national project promoting Aboriginal lifelong learning to advance the social, cultural, political and economic development of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.
Now retired and working as a consultant, researching, reviewing, and developing Aboriginal education partnerships, programs and initiatives, Bouvier sees recognition and publicity around the Indspire Award as an opportunity to highlight the importance of education. "A strong identity is important to the success of young people," she said, "and that includes language and cultural identity for First Nations and Métis students."
Recalling her close ties to family and community—and lessons taught by her grandparents—Bouvier fondly, and at one time emotionally, remembers those she studied with, learned from and taught. And those relationships push her to continue promoting the importance of supporting the educational needs of Aboriginal students. "We need to intensify our efforts, not just for First Nations and Métis people, but for everyone in our province, so we can understand each other and work together."
Bouvier will be given the award at a gala event on March 21, 2014 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
U of S alumni and faculty who are past recipients of an Indspire Award (formerly National Aboriginal Achievement Award):
1995 Rev. Ahab Spence (D), BA'52, LLD'64
1996 Maria Campbell
1999 Dr. Alika LaFontaine, MD'06
1999 The Hon. Lillian Dyck, BA'66, MA'70, PhD'81
1999 Joseph Adams (D)
2001 Freda Ahenakew (D), BEd'79, LLD'97
2001 Harold Cardinal (D), LLB'95
2003 Matthew Dunn, BE'04, MSc'10
2005 Fauna Kingdon, MPAcc'08
2006 James Henderson
2007 Marie Battiste
2007 John (Jack) Poole (D), BE'54
2008 The Hon. Joseph Handley, BEd'68, MEd'70
2009 Rev. Stan Cuthand, LTh'44
2010 Worme, Donald, LLB'85
2012 Janet Smylie
2013 Winston Wuttunee
2013 Gabrielle Scrimshaw, BComm'10