Kanewiyakiho's journey began as Delvin Kennedy. The son of Alberta lumber camp workers—his was a mom a cook, and his dad was a sawyer—was raised on Little Pine First Nation, just off the Yellowhead Highway, about 60 kilometres northwest of North Battleford.
The First Nation was the ideal training ground for Kanewiyakiho's career as a teacher and cultural consultant. He explained, "Little Pine was once a teaching reserve. In 1905, we had 20 specialists. All the bands south of Battle River went to Little Pine to learn ceremony.
"I have always been steeped in culture," he continued. "I learned from my parents and grandparents; I always heard Cree [language]; playing sports, at school, talking with friends, it was always in Cree."
After high school, Kanewiyakiho went to university at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah. The birthplace of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (Mormons) may not seem like a logical place for a young Plains Cree man to go to school, but their indigenous dance troupe attracted Kanewiyakiho to the Greater Salt Lake area.
"I had an eyeful and an earful. I was always in my culture, living First Nations culture, loving it, espousing it," Kanewiyakiho said of his three years as a member the troupe of Polynesian, Native American and Latino American dancers who toured Southeast Asia, South America and Europe.
Kanewiyakiho returned home and earned his bachelors of arts and education degrees at the University of Saskatchewan. Before earning his master's degree at that U of S, he taught at St. Mary's Community School, and later Oskāyak High School—both schools with high Aboriginal student enolment.
Inside the classroom and out—leading the powwow dance troupe, teaching powwow drumming to students, and working with elders for ceremonies, feasts and round dances—Kanewiyakiho knew, from his own experience, the importance of helping students feel culturally connected.
"Students, whether they are First Nations or not, or new-comers to Canada, come in with gifts and skills, and I think that when you teach culture and language and traditions, you are adding more arsenal for success. If a child is feeling good about who they are and they are accepted as a culturally located person, then the sky is the limit." Kanewiyakiho stated that understanding First Nations and Métis culture is not only important to learn as part of our national history, it encourages non-indigenous students to learn about their own culture and heritage and grow as individuals.
Kanewiyakiho's journey and personal growth included a name change 10 years ago. "It was part of a healing process for me. When I was 17 years old, I was given my Cree name. It dawned on me; I came to an epiphany after some soul searching. So I decided to change my surname to Kanewiyakiho as part of my healing."
His name is also a teaching tool. "When I meet people, they want to know my name. It's a good teaching point because they want to know how to pronounce it and what it means." (It is pronounced gah-nay-wee-yah-gee-hoo and means "he comes from directions" referencing the four winds.)
As a First Nations and Métis consultant with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, Kanewiyakiho is working with administrators and teachers to incorporated indigenous culture, tradition and ceremony throughout the division. Part of that includes developing First Nations and Métis curriculum for kindergarten through Grade 12 students.
When asked how he is going about that monumental task, he said "Everything that I have learned form mentors and guides has been done in the spirit of relationship … everything is done in association with someone else. It is relationships that have taught me to communicate better, to be more accepting of people and to understand where people come from more.
"Getting along in a good way—mîyo-wîcêtowin—in the spirit of kinship or relationship— wâhkôhtowin—that's made the difference for me; that's what I have learned from the elders and through my own trial and error. I've come to understand you need good relationships to have success."
Kanewiyakiho credits his elders, guides and mentors for the Indspire award. He's also curious about the lives and accomplishments of fellow nominees, "not to compare; to learn from them and maybe improve my journey." After a short, reflective pause, Kanewiyakiho humbly concludes, "I've had a good journey so far."
Indspire's Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Awards will be awarded in Calgary on November 13.