Ernest Patenaude with his Excellence in Indigenous Education Award. Photo courtesy Holy Family Catholic Regional Division

Passionate volunteer puts kids first

By 
  • December 13, 2020

Ernest Patenaude’s passion for volunteerism was sparked by his teachers when he attended St. Andrew’s School in High Prairie, Alta., in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

It’s carried on well beyond his school days and led to Patenaude being honoured with the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division school district’s 2020 Excellence in Indigenous Education Award.

“I was lucky to have a lot of spiritual advisors who always told me that when you get older, you carry forward to help kids,” said Patenaude, a 35-year-old contract oilfield worker. “They said, ‘it’s kid’s first. Help them grow and help them learn.’ It is my honour to help the little ones as much as possible.”

Patenaude was recognized for his continuing efforts to educate students in the area northwest of Edmonton about Indigenous culture and philosophies, and is a testament that he fully embraced the pearl of wisdom his teachers gave him many years ago growing up on the East Prairie Metis Settlement.

Marc Lamoureux, the principal of St. Andrew’s, submitted the nomination application for Patenaude.

“St. Andrew’s School is blessed to have Ernest,” said Lamoureux. “He is very passionate about sharing the Indigenous culture. He volunteers his time regularly and has a very valuable role in our school.”

The Indigenous learning experiences Patenaude has shared with the students over the last three or four years runs the gamut. He has led drumming circles, sharing circles, pipe ceremonies and sweat lodges.

He has also championed spirituality in his seminars by sharing the Seven Sacred Teachings. These First Nations values of love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth align very much with the tenets of Catholicism.

Patenaude encourages students to exemplify these values not only towards their fellow man or woman, but also towards the Earth.

“It is not just about respect of human beings, but we are called to respect everything that we are lent, like the trees, the water and even the creepy crawlers,” he said. “We all only have one chance at this Earth so we need to use it in a way so our grandkids can enjoy it.”

Patenaude and his wife Jackie have two children of their own, daughter Oneisha, 12, and eight-year-old son Seth. Both are homeschooling during the pandemic, but Patenaude looks forward to when he can send his children to St. Andrew’s.

Perhaps his relationship with his kids informs the comfortable rapport he has with both children and teenagers at the school, a character trait recognized in the honour. There are distinct pleasures that come with working with younger and older kids, says Patenaude.

“The little tiny dudes and ladies are so energetic and are enthusiastic when you share something with them,” he said. “I remember how excited they were when I showed them wolf hide. The older group is more vocal and they ask a lot of great questions. Some of them even knew some of the plants I would share, but they were looking for knowledge about how to use them.”

The man from East Prairie is still very much in the opening act of his volunteerism with St. Andrew’s School as he intends to be a presence there as long as he “can talk, see or hear.”

Winning the Excellence in Indigenous Education Award netted Patenaude a plaque and $500 to be donated to a charity of his choice. It came as no surprise Patenaude donated the entire sum to St. Andrew’s. 

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