What was to become Oskāyak High School was built in 1928 after a filling station on Main and Broadway moved, and was originally St. Jospeh's Elementary School. This was done at the same time as the church across the street (St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church). It was built by funds secured by Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools. The school was completed in 1945.
In the mid-1970s, it became clear that the needs of some Indigenous students in Saskatoon were not being met. There was much discussion and lobbying by Indigenous leaders and parents who recognized the difficulties First Nations and Metis students were facing in school. Establishing an Indigenous controlled school was a high priority for this community, which witnessed the high dropout rate of First Nations and Metis students in the 1970's. At this time, band-controlled schools were seeing success on reserves, but similar opportunities were not available in urban centers.
After much discussion between representatives of the Kitotiminawak Council (the new school's parent advisory council), Indian bands, the Department of Indian Affairs and Saskatoon's two school board, an agreement was reached. The parent council, the Saskatoon Catholic School Board and Saskatchewan's Department of Education agreed to create the Native Survival School and give all three parties equal say in how it was run.
The school opened its doors in September 1980 in what was the former St. Joseph's Elementary School, and a written history of the school describes the position of the school's founders: "The thinking began to change from the belief that the children were not able to adapt to the education and school system, to the possibility that it was largely the system that was failing the children. Indian leadership attributed this failure to inappropriate curriculum, teaching strategies and classroom environment."
In the beginning, the school focused on helping students keep their high school academic careers alive; to survive high school. Students were made to feel welcome, wanted and secure and the intention was to return them to mainstream schools. In 1987, the school celebrated its first graduates; one student entered university the next year.
On July 1, 1989, to recognize the evolution of the school's mandate, its name was changed to Joe Duquette High School. Joe Duquette, who was from the Mistawais First Nation, was the school's first Elder and helped many students with their spiritual path. After Duquette's passing, there was a desire to honour his contributions to the school. Joe Duquette High School became known as a healing place which nurtures the mind, body and soul of its students as well as supporting the uniqueness and creativity of the individual.
Seventeen years later, in 2006, Duquette's family and school Elders began to discuss changing the name of the school again, in order to allow Duquette's spirit to rest more peacefully. Between September and December 2006, more than 30 new names were suggested to school administration. Oskāyak - the Cree word for young people - emerged as the overwhelming choice of a committee representing school stake holders. It was felt that this name captured the community's belief that the school was for all young people.
Shortly after the name change, Oskāyak began focusing on putting more technology into the hands of students and using project-based learning, a method of learning that requires students to collaborate and gain a deep understanding of the subject areas. Evidence of what students have learned is shown not only through tests or essays, but is illustrated through hands on projects like video documentaries produced at the school. Elders bring students the Sacred Circle to help the young people find mental, spiritual, physical and emotional balance.
With these initiatives, the school's graduation rate has climbed steadily. Our school continues to provide a valuable service for Indigenous Youth desiring a grade 12 diploma. Joe Duquette's legacy did not end when the school's name changed; it provides quality education for the young people who attend, within a strong cultural setting.