Cort Dogniez, Métis education consultant with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, is a 2018 Indspire Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Award recipient for community service.
He credits many people for success in his long and fruitful career as an educator. When talking to him about his path, one person comes up more than any other: his kohkum (grandma), Clara Delorme.
“I was really fortunate that I spent a lot of time with my grandma,” said Dogniez. “Growing up I heard stories, I got our history, our family genealogy—all of that stuff I got from her. Later on, I lived with my grandma and that intensified learning about our [Métis] culture.”
Realizing that being raised with a strong sense of his Métis identity was more the exception than the norm, Dogniez has spent his career trying to change that for Indigenous youth.
After graduating from E.D. Feehan Catholic High School, Dogniez earned his bachelor of education through the College of Education’s Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) at the University of Saskatchewan. His grandma again helped keep him grounded in his culture and identity as a Métis person. “I would go home and tell my grandma stories and she would tell me, ‘You’re not an Indian; you need to know who you are,’ and I would tell her, ‘I know who I am.’”
Treaty education and culturally-responsive teaching weren’t commonplace during the early years of his career as a teacher with Saskatoon Public Schools. Being told those parts of education were unimportant or the lack of professional role models did not lessen his determination to change that.
Dogniez’s two-fold vision of affirming Indigenous students by providing an environment where they can be proud of their heritage and culture, and enabling non-Indignous people to know and understand the histories, cultures, contexts and even struggles of our country’s First Peoples required a few things to fall into place. “You need to build a team around students. You need the support of administration, teachers and parents,” he explained. “I’m lucky I had good people, in schools and administration, who saw what I was doing and validated my work.”
Division leaders were listening, and with the helpful nudge of supportive colleagues, Dogniez became a founding member and driving force behind the Okiciyapi Educational Partnership—a strategic alliance between Saskatoon Public Schools, Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) and Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC)—that created culturally-responsive learning environments for students and staff.
“After 31 years, I felt I earned retirement.” But retirement didn’t stick for long. Dogniez continued his work with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner conducting Treaty Catalyst Workshops that give teachers the resources and knowledge they need to integrate treaty education in their classrooms. And after doing some consulting, Dogniez was recruited by Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools to lead Métis programming that grew from a partnership between the division and CUMFI.
Being a long-time member of CUMFI, Dogniez was instrumental in establishing the Métis Education Alliance Agreement between the Métis organization and the school division. The agreement enhances Métis community participation across the division’s 50 school communities. The most dramatic impact is at St. Michael Community School, home to the division’s Métis cultural program, where aspects of Métis culture like jigging, fiddle music and Michif language have brought a renewed vibrancy to the school community.
Walk through the door of Dogniez’s classroom at St. Michael, and his kohkum’s influence is obvious. Personal and family artifacts transport you to another place and time, and Dogniez’s smile is always there to welcome you. At one point, Dogniez even had a canvas tent set up to make his teaching and stories a more immersive experience.
Dogniez is apprehensive to take credit or receive recognition for his lifetime of work. He’s quick to point to others who deserve some of the credit. And they’re just as quick to redirect credit where credit is due.
“Cort has been an invaluable resource for the school division,” said Diane Boyko, Board of Education chair with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools. “He has a good and sincere heart, and he makes building relationships look easy. I think that’s why he’s good at building community; he is good at fostering relationships that are the foundation that allows people to move forward together.”
Even in accepting recognition, Dogniez reminds us of his singular focus that has been there since day one: the students. “At this moment in time I’m holding the torch. Many have held it before me, and many will hold it after me. I feel pretty blessed that I have my grandma’s stories, her perspective, her history, and that’s what I get to share in our school division.”
Guiding the Journey awards recognize Indigenous educators who have made valuable contributions to community-based education and honour the principles of Indigenous knowledge.
Dogniez is the third Indspire Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Award recipient from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools since their inception in 2013. Superintendent Gordon Martell received the leadership award in 2013, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit education consultant Delvin Kanewiyakiho received the award in the language, culture and traditions category in 2015.