By Caitlyn Anhorn
An Educator with Big Dreams
Rollin Baldhead grew up around Saskatchewan on his reserve of One Arrow, as well as Beardy’s, Muskeg, and Saskatoon. After graduating with a Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan, Baldhead has been on the move – spending the past few years travelling to different regions of Canada to both teach, and learn from other communities and landscapes. Taking his educator role seriously, Baldhead is teaching students from kindergarten to grade 2 through land-based education, leading culture camps, and everything in between. He is now using what he has learned – and continues to learn – to move mountains across Canada.
A bit about Baldhead and the Power of his Voice
Family is very important to Baldhead. For much of his childhood and teen years, Baldhead lived with his sisters and his mom. To this day, Baldhead is directly and heavily impacted by the trauma that rests from when his Auntie became a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman victim. Baldhead has had to work through these impacts and the trials and tribulations of growing up with racism all around him but has leaned on his family through it all.
Though they’ve had their challenges, Baldhead’s mom is his superwoman. “My mom would always say stuff to educate me or to bring me to a new height.” She has taught him many life lessons, both directly and indirectly.
One lesson that has stuck with Baldhead relates to having and using his voice. Baldhead recalls being in grade 1 when racial issues were prevalent in his community and the city. At this time, his mom said, “It’s important to have your voice, and this is where your voice comes from.” These words stayed with and guided Baldhead through the years, helping him to be grounded in confidence through uncomfortable times, learning to use his voice, and connecting his voice to where it comes from – the land.
Naturally, Baldhead is now a great leader and uses his voice in the roles that he plays. He was elected Youth Representative for FSIN from 2018 to 2020, where he learned to believe in himself. During his time there, Baldhead learned that it’s important to be aware of his words, and he also gained appreciation for ceremony as a central aspect to life. From 2018 to 2019, during his last year of University, Baldhead was the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union President, where he left behind a legacy of Indigenization after his proposal for hiring an Elder-in-Residence was a success.
Curiosity and wholeheartedness has led Baldhead to where he is today
Over the past few years, Baldhead’s curiosity has led him to continue learning, through both formal education and personal experiences. After graduating from the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan in 2019, Baldhead decided to move around and learn from Elders and Knowledge Keepers across Canada. He has visited communities across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. During his visits, Baldhead learned about harvesting animals, how animals relate to the territory, what resources the territory holds and how to sustain them. It was from these experiences that Baldhead got offered the opportunities to lead cultural camps and land-based learning.
Baldhead uses his Bachelor of Education in insightful ways and has taught in three provinces throughout the past year alone. After helping teach Cree outside of the classroom in Saskatchewan, Baldhead led a culture camp in Ontario, then northern British Columbia. After the culture camp, he stayed at Kincolith, BC, where he is currently teaching kindergarten, grade 1, and grade 2 students.
As Baldhead travels to new communities across Canada, he is learning about the local cultural practices and is experiencing what it is like to be ‘new’ to a community. In his current role, Baldhead is learning Nisgaā alongside his young students. With this newness, comes increased curiosity, as Baldhead longs to learn about the local culture and language.
Land, Language & Culture are so incredibly interconnected
Fortunately, Baldhead grew up learning and speaking Nêhiyawak (Cree) with his family and community. Through his language, Baldhead learned many aspects of his culture from stories to life lessons that he otherwise might not have known or felt. He says, “The deeper you know your Cree language, the deeper understanding you’ll have of yourself. In turn, if you know yourself then you start to know the land since words come from the land. And with those words come history, stories, all types of learning in different topics of curriculum.”
Baldhead explains that Indigenous language is alive – it’s not set, it’s “in a bundle.” Sometimes, a word can say something in letters on paper with no meaning behind it. “If you spell rain on a paper, it’ll forever be rain. But if you spell tapwe on a piece of paper, it’ll still be living on the paper because there’s so much meaning.”
Indigenous language is so incredibly connected to the land. Baldhead expresses that stories and words come from the land, some specifically from events or simply plants and trees in the area. In this sense, Baldhead has also learned that the power of his voice comes from the land. “If I want to speak calmly, I’m able to control my voice, which I’ve learned from just standing by a creek nearby.”
Thinking Indigenously means thinking aspatially – with an open mind.
It means “thinking as far as your environment goes. If you’re thinking with big open spaces around you, especially in the prairies, then your mind is able to go far. But [less so] if you’re stuck in a cubicle or in a classroom with bright lights.” As an educator, Baldhead brings these beliefs to his teaching philosophy and ways. He has a huge belief in land-based learning and says that he would ideally teach with the land all the time.
In his current role of grade 1 teacher, Baldhead teaches many of his lessons outside after connecting curricula to lessons from the land. One example of this is that he teaches about friendship by discussing the trees and their interconnectedness through their roots. While some days are more productive than others, he views the less productive days as moments to sit in stillness and learn about oneself.
He is so excited to be teaching these children to use their voice, just as his mom taught him.
Baldhead’s big ideas
Baldhead has big ideas of what he would love to see happen in the education world. As a true believer in connection, he wants to help Indigenous teachers advocate for themselves by developing an inaugural Indigenous teacher’s union for those who teach on reserves across the country. He wishes to create a space through which teachers can negotiate better contracts and proper funding.
Through proper funding, Indigenous communities will have the resources to create their own curriculum, based heavily on land-based learning. He says, “It’s tough to go back to your roots when you don’t know what they are.” Overall, he wants to help children and youth learn their roots, beyond the simple land acknowledgement in a classroom. Baldhead wants the chance to realize learning from the land. “Currently, there’s nothing that says Nisgaā; maybe the words say Nisgaā, but they’re still typed out. That’s not the way it was taught out here.” Additionally, Traditional Ceremony is another opportunity where individuals come together and learn very organically. Baldhead uses an example of chopping wood as a chance to also listen to a story, which then turns into learning about the clouds and the weather.
Advice from Baldhead
As a lifelong learner, Baldhead is very passionate about curiosity, learning, and being uncomfortable. He uses his role as a teacher to instill greatness in the young people of today and strives to teach those around him these life lessons, as mentioned below.
Be curious. Like a grade 1 student, ask those questions that others might not think of. Get wet in the rain puddles, walk in them without boots, and turn it into a fun experience. “Don’t be afraid to get in trouble, because how else are you going to learn.”
Learn from everything you do and everyone you meet. Keep an open mind and always invite Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
It is when you’re uncomfortable that you’ll learn the most. “When I’m questioning myself, those are the points when I wouldn’t learn the most. It was the points where I was being challenged and I would just do it, [that I learned the most].”
Rollin Baldhead is an Indigenous educator with a Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan. He now uses his degree and skills that he’s learned from his family, friends, and life experiences to teach in a classroom and on the land. To Baldhead, land-based learning is of utmost importance and he strives to provide this in everything that he teaches.