Indigenous language teacher who uses puppets as a fun way to teach
Theresa O’Watch is the only person at the head of the class as she teaches the Nakoda language, but she’s not alone up there. She has a helper in the form of Kushi, a doll.
O’Watch, who hails from the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, teaches at the Nakoda Oyade Education Center in the town of Sintulata, Sask., about 100 kilometers east of Regina.
Named after a Nakoda word for grandmother, Kushi helps make language learning fun and easier for children.
The doll was a gift to O’Watch from a friend. After adding two pigtails, a skirt and some earrings, Kushi came to life.
Nakoda, also known as Assiniboine, is considered an endangered language.
O’Watch grew up with parents who spoke Nakoda fluently, but said that she was mocked and taught English for being sent to school in a nearby town. She said she was ashamed of her culture at the time.
With the help of her late sister, Freda, O’Watch re-learned the language she had lost. As a tribute to her sister, she made skirts for Kushi out of Freda’s old clothes.
“I sew her into outfits that fit her,” O’Watch said. “For me — it might be a little silly — there’s kind of my sister’s essence to Kushi, so she’s always with me.”
With encouragement from her late sister, she decided to teach the language online and in the classroom and received her Indigenous language certificate.
O’Watch now teaches the language to elementary school students three days a week.
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Kushi makes the kids laugh. They love seeing her different outfits including specially made moccasins.
“She’ll yell at them and they’ll all come running. We’re going to point out that we need to listen to the eldest in the class, in the class, because she’s the eldest,” O’Watch said. “She helps me with the respect. She helps me calm the children down. She is a great asset to help teach.”
She hopes that the children will take the language to the playground and continue it at home.
O’Watch doesn’t consider herself a fluent speaker, but what she does know, she’s willing to share. She said Kushi gives her that confidence.