Rāpaki hosted a study group from Blue Quills First Nations College, Alberta Canada, led by Dean of Indigenous Languages and wife of Rewi Couch, Dr Marilyn Shirt. During their time at Rāpaki they visited Māori education and language programmes and local iwi in the spirit of cultural exchange and relationship building.

Blue Quills College is located at an old residential school site, built in the 1800s by the government in partnership with church groups with the intention of Christianising and “taking the Indian out of the child.” Many of these boarding schools were situated some distance from the reserves and children often did not see their families until they were aged 16,or after they had left the school.

It was Blue Quill, one of the four chiefs who banded together to form Saddle Lake, to build a school on the reserve, so the children of Saddle Lake would not be too far from their families. He foresaw a time when earning a living would be easy but being Cree would be hard to hold.

In 1970, First Nation people rallied to take control over the school, which is now governed by seven local First Nations Reserves. Today this locally controlled indigenous education centre is staffed by a dedicated group of people who mostly originate from the very reserves the school once targeted for assimilation. Some were victims of the old residential schools assimilation programme. They are all committed to regaining the cultural health and well-being, identity and language the original school was designed to destroy.

The visiting Blue Quills students are studying towards their Masters degree and Bachelor of Arts in Cree; along with some doctoral students.

The time spent with local iwi was invaluable and contributed tremendously to their learning, from seeing the similarities in the struggles to revitalise and maintain the language; to being inspired by the determination of Māori people in promoting language and culture via a number of avenues; not just within the school system.

Here is a message from the students’ and Dr Marilyn Shirt:
“To the Māori Language schools, the local iwi and hapū of Ngāi Tahu who extend their hospitality and support, we wish you our heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

We hope that we will one day have the opportunity to provide you the same hospitality should you come to visit at Blue Quills First Nations College.”

A further update on the visit will be published in the February 2015 issue of Te Pānui Rūnaka.