Most of us hope to leave some positive wake behind us as a legacy as we bide our time here on Turtle Island, but few can dare hope to match those countless ripples that emanate from the 90-year passage of Wiikwemkoong born educator and Anishinaabe knowledge keeper Cecil King. More than 60 years of that passage was spent teaching, primarily teachers, in how to approach Indigenous education through an Indigenous lens.
Dr. King transcended the challenges of the residential school system to reach the highest levels of education in the Western system, while retaining his language, his culture and a passion to pass that knowledge on to those who follow.
“His legacy in blazing a path towards achieving educational goals is without parallel,” said Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier. “He played an important role in promoting and preserving our language. His legacy is something his children and grandchildren, our entire community of Wiikwemkoong, can be proud of.”
Born in Wiikwemkoong to David and Adeline King, Dr. King’s siblings included Don and Elizabeth (predeceased) and sister Loretta. His humble beginnings are chronicled in his recently published autobiography ‘The Boy from Buzwah: A Life in Indian Education’ from Regina University Press (available at The Expositor book shop in Little Current).
Dr. King has secured a place in the history books as the first Indigenous candidate to secure a doctorate and among his many accomplishments was the creation of curriculum that connected with the Indigenous worldview. Throughout his life, he developed First Nation language courses used in elementary and secondary schools, founded the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan and was the first director of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program at Queen’s University.
But to Dr. King’s mind, his children noted, those accomplishments paled in comparison to the role he played on the ground in education, assisting those seeking improved success in educating Indigenous students.
His daughter Anna Lea King, herself a university professor, described her father as “a very gentle, kind man” whose dealings with others encompassed “the utmost diplomacy.”
“It was because of my father that I became teacher myself,” she said. “My father was my childhood hero.”
That sentiment extended to his compatriots at the University of Saskatchewan where he spent much of his career. “He walked on water” and rippled on to so many others who went on to choose a career in education.
Wiikwemkoong educator Dominic Beaudry, a former director of education at the Wiikwemkoong Board of Education recalled the influence Dr. King had on his own life and career. “He was a teacher and administrator—so we heard a lot about his role in education and wanted a similar career as an educator,” he shared. “I went to Queen’s University and took part in the program he was a part of, the Aboriginal Teachers Education Program, that program gave me a career in education. We honoured Dr. King years ago at one of our education conferences at Wiikwemikong High School and we presented him with a lifetime achievement award.”
Order of Canada recipient Jeanette Corbiere-Lavell also considered Dr. King a mentor.
Daughter Alanis King, a storied playwright and author, is also a teacher, although in the arts. She has followed her father’s footsteps along her own path.
She recalled her father’s gentle humour and grace in dealing with people. Ms. King recalled her father’s love of woodworking, likely borne out of his early work at residential school as a set designer.
“He did the sets for HMS Pinafore while he was in residential school,” said Ms. King. “He created the floats for the school parades, even a huge Paul Bunyon for the head of the parade.”
While he recognized the challenges presented to many by the residential school system, Mr. King transcended those challenges to excel in higher education. “He always said that he did not regret his time in residential school,” recalled Ms. King. “It helped make him who he was.”
Mr. King passed at age 90 at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
Mr. King had five children, Denise predeceased (2002), Daryl (Gladys) of Buzwah, Anna-Leah of Regina, Alanis (Bitsy/Elizabeth) of Ottawa and Shoo-Shoo (Troy) of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He is survived by his beloved wife Catherine and will be remembered fondly by his many nieces and nephews.
Mr. King’s wake for Cecil was held at St. Mary’s Parish Hall on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, from 1 pm to Wednesday, May 11. His funeral service took place at St. Mary’s Parish on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at 1 pm.