History of Kayas Cultural College

History of Kayas Cultural College

Kayas (which means “long time” and “long time ago”) began as an idea of the Little Red River Reading Society, which was formed in the early 1970s to preserve and promote the band’s language and culture. The society hoped to establish a center for this purpose, although that goal had not been achieved when it disbanded in the late 1970s. In the mean time, the members were involved in making curriculum materials to be used in the local schools.

The Society’s idea became a reality in 1984-1985 when the band took control of education in their communities. The first thing the new Regional Board did was establish the Kayas Cultural Center in what was formerly a two-room annex to Little Flower, built in 1959. The center opened in 1985 and the annex is still a part of Kayas today.

The new center was the headquarters of a Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, an Assistant Supervisor of Curriculum and Culture, and a secretary. Its main focus was providing curriculum materials for the Little Red River Board of Education, but it had other functions as well. These included recording the recollections of tribal elders, encouraging the production of arts and crafts, and vocational training. For the first two years, it was supported by petty cash and contributions from the band. Then in 1987-88, the center asked for an annual budget to operate a community college named Kayas Cultural College.

Among the long-term goals of those spearheading the college initiative were post-secondary accreditation, accreditation in the trades, and recognition as a curriculum-building institution. There were also ambitious plans for a craft room, a woods craft room, a media and library center, an audio-visual tech room with a dark room, and an auditorium with a stage. Although many features of the building plan were not realized, the Kayas Cutural Center did run several adult programs for trades and academic studies in conjunction with Fairview College. It also co-ordinated the Grouse’s Pouch project, a major initiative in First Nations curriculum development.

Another achievement for Kayas came in 1988, a month after the Grouse’s Pouch launch. The college was chosen as one of 6 Alberta native arts and crafts centers to represent the province at the Winter Showcase of Canadian Arts and Crafts in Ottawa. The exhibition was held on Feb 10,11, and 12, 1989, at the Ottawa Congress Center. An article from the High Level Newspaper Echo ​(December 14, 1988) states: “[C]ommenting on the quality and caliber of the Kayas’ crafts, The Alberta Indian Arts and Crafts Society is sponsoring the center with a $3000 grant to meet the expenses of the trip.” in the same article, the paper reports that, “AIACS has already provided the Center with a $3000 grant to purchase materials for a local art studio, just beginning operation in Fox Lake. The Kayas studio will offer classes and materials to established and developing artists from the Little Red River Tribe, and offer art opportunities to local children.” During that year, Kayas represented about 70 craftspeople ranging from the age of 12 to 74 years old. Their work was marketed though the Center, and some crafts were still sold there as late as 2001.

During the 1990s the primary focus of Kayas College became academic recovery. The programs were managed by Fairview College until 1997, when the band took control of the upgrading enterprise. Under the leadership of Bryant Johns, instructors created curriculum for an Adult Basic Education program and modified Alberta Education’s Social Studies and English curriculums for University and College Entrance preparation, a course of studies for First Nations learners devised by Concordia College in Edmonton. At the same time production of Cree curriculum was ongoing. In 2002, Bryant brought Tyler Tokaryk from Ottawa to set up the computer database for a new initiative, which was completed over the next ten years by Teddy Ribbonleg.

A new era of Kayas history began in 2012 with the appointment of Kyle Trumpour as Coordinator of the College. Since then he and his assistant Kyle Kelly, the present Coordinator, have undertaken much-needed upgrades to the physical and technological infrastructure and put Kayas on a sound financial footing. Kayas Cultural College is ready, willing and able to advance the Nation in the future as it has always done in the past.

– ​Written By Carol Heart, English Instructor 1999 – 2016