Trevor Creeley puts the finishing touches on one of his final projects in his high school welding class.
The 17-year-old is building a coffee table to put in his home when he moves out on his own.
Trevor is getting ready to graduate from R.B. Russell Vocational High school in Winnipeg.
He’s been at the school for the past three years.
“I’m really going to miss it,” he said. “I’m probably going to come back even when I’m not a student just to come to the welding shop.”
After this summer, Trevor will be taking a welding course at Red River College in Winnipeg. He credits much of his success to his instructors at R.B. Russell.
“The teachers are really nice here. They’re almost like friends. They’re not like someone you can only talk about school with you can actually talk about personal stuff,” he said.
Located in Winnipeg’s North End, R.B. Russell is a predominantly Indigenous populated school.
Approximately 98 per cent of the 400 students here identify as Indigenous.
It is quickly becoming one of the leading schools in Winnipeg to implement and foster Indigenous practices as part of the high school curriculum.
“We smudge every morning,” said Sandra Costa, a teacher at R.B. Russell. “We create that opportunity for students if they want to they can [and] if they don’t want to that’s fine.”
Costa teaches grade nine and 10 students in a specialized classroom setting.
She works with students who have more success in smaller classroom settings where they can work one-on-one with a teacher.
Part of her job is helping the students transition into a regular classroom setting for grades 11 and 12.
In her classroom, students are learning their traditional language while also working on their regular curriculum.
R.B. Russell relies on Elders in the community to bring in traditional knowledge and teachings.
That’s because the textbooks haven’t been written yet, says school elder Roxanne Shuttleworth.
“There’s no knowledge or curriculum for the teachers to use,” she said.
“Right now we’re looking at a non-Indigenous, non-Aboriginal, white Canadian history. It’s not from our perspective at all.”
Shuttleworth works at the school once a week. She says more often that not it’s the students who are asking her to come into the classroom to provide context or history on important events in Canada’s past.
In the welding shop, Mike Johnston gives his students a place to work on passion projects, including a memorial for Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in the Red River in 2014.
The memorial will be housed at Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre, a shelter Tina stayed at while she was in the city.
Johnston says the kids are drawn to the welding shop because it gives them an open space to hang out.
“Trevor comes and visits me every day during his math class just to hang out for five or 10 minutes,” he said.
“It’s a welcoming space where they can get creative and find something they have a passion for.”
Much like her brother Trevor, Kayla Creeley, 16, has found a career path within the classrooms of R.B. Russell. The grade 11 student spends most of her time in a computer laboratory studying graphic design. Her work has already been used as part of a campaign for a local non-profit group.
While the school is helping Kayla launch her career, it also acts as a home away from home for the teen.
“Me and my friends we have a lot of situations we go through. They’re very similar and we just talk,” she said. “We can relate with each other and stuff like that.”
The school celebrated it’s 50th-anniversary last year.
Most recently staff and students completed construction of a sweat lodge and had their first ceremony in May.
The inclusion of ceremonies, smudging and elders throughout R.B. Russell’s curriculum is a way to decolonize the western education system, says Jackie Connell, principal for the school.
Because of this. more and more schools are looking at the high school as a leading example to do that.
“I think that more and more often schools are looking for authentic and meaningful ways to integrate Indigenous education and culture into the curriculum,” said Connell.
“And if what we’re doing is inspiring to other people, buildings, schools or divisions I’m absolutely happy to collaborate any opportunity we get.”
As the school year comes to a close Trevor reflects on the place and teachers who gave him an opportunity to turn a hobby into a career.
And, while he sets off on a new adventure the school’s welding lab will always remain a ‘second home’ for him.
“It was the most comfortable place in the school for me because I knew everything in here,” he said. “It just felt good to be in here.”