Meadow Lake teacher recognized for impact on Indigenous students

Found On: MeadowlakeNOW

A local teacher is being acknowledged for his work with Indigenous youth.

Derek Eftoda, an educator at Carpenter High School, was awarded the Guiding the Journey Award. The honour comes from Indspire, a national Indigenous charity that invests in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis education.

The award recognizes those who make significant contributions to community-based education while honouring the principles of Indigenous knowledge.

In an interview with meadowlakeNOW, Eftoda said the announcement of his accomplishment caught him by surprise.

“I got a call from Toronto telling me I’d received this award, and naturally when you get a phone number from Toronto saying you received an award, you think it’s a scam, so I didn’t believe it at first,” he explained.

“It was kind of a shock, then once I realized what it was, it was very humbling more than anything.”

On Friday, the achievement was highlighted in the House of Commons by Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River MP Gary Vidal.

“As the only non-Indigenous teacher to win this award, Mr. Eftoda understands that reconciliation is accomplished through actions of respect and finding a positive path forward,” Vidal said.

Eftoda has served as an educator for nearly 20 years, 11 of which have been in Meadow Lake. Throughout his career, he’s made a point of trying to cover every angle that plays a part in his student’s education.

One of those aspects is creating a perspective-broadening experience that resonates long after the lesson is complete.

This is demonstrated by his role in introducing Gord Downie’s Secret Path Project to his school as well as developing an area dedicated to Truth and Reconciliation.

Eftoda believes programs and lessons like these are essential to education. He adds the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Indigenous child who died trying to escape a residential school, is crucial in Canadian history and needs to be shared because of how it can broaden perspectives to Indigenous issues.

“Every Carpenter grad is going to get this story before they’re done with our school here,” he explained.

“Over the years, when I bring this story up, students say that happened to [a relative], almost the exact same story where they tried to escape or died in the school.”

He said the emotional toll the story had on his students inspired them to make an effort to honour those affected by the residential school system.

“A group of students thought it would be nice if we had a space in our school dedicated to victims and survivors of residential schools, so we now have an area in our school that’s going to be our legacy area.”

With that in mind, Carpenter High School is constructing the space for Truth and Reconciliation. Students will have the opportunity to make a contribution to the space which is expected to continue being added to as future classes participate in Eftoda’s lessons.

While Eftoda is recognized as the first non-Indigenous person to receive the award, but he explains this achievement isn’t possible without the cornerstone efforts from his colleagues and other countless educators.

“This is absolutely a team effort,” he said.

“It’s not something I can claim I’ve done by myself. I’ve had a lot of help over the years.”

Eftoda will receive a ticket to the 2021 National Gathering for Indigenous Education, an award from Indspire President and CEO Mike DeGagné and a $1,000 grant to be used towards his classroom.