Sticks and stones may break our bones, and names can also hurt us

Alumni of the Plains Indians Cultural Survival School (PICSS) reflect on their experiences of interpersonal racism in mainstream schooling and how a cultural survival school helped them eventually find “success”


  • Cynthia Justine Gallop Mount Royal University
  • David Turner Alberta Health Services
  • Jerry Arshinoff None
  • Marlena Bullee Mount Royal University
  • Reanne Arcand Mount Royal University



Indigenous student experience, racism, Hermeneutic Phenomenology, culturally responsive schooling and education


The education system in Canada has represented institutional injustice and oppression for Indigenous people since the government set up the Residential School System in the 1880’s. In the wake of the report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015, the concept of cultural safety has become a major component of the institutional justice and oppression conversation when considering K to 12 education in Canadian provinces and territories. While not a new approach to education, Culturally Responsive Schooling and Education (CRS/E) is one approach that has been employed over the years to improve the educational outcomes of Indigenous youth in Canada, the US, and Australia by creating culturally safe spaces.  This project offered an opportunity to explore the experiences of Indigenous alumni who attended a CRS during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The participants reflected on both their negative experiences and memories of attending mainstream schools, and the positive impact the CRS/E had on them 30 to 40 years after they graduated. The study findings support the results from research conducted around the world on the impact of racism, and CRS/E systems on Indigenous learners.

Author Biographies

Cynthia Justine Gallop, Mount Royal University

Cynthia is an Associate Professor in the General Education Department at Mount Royal University. She holds a BA (English) from the University of Calgary, a BSW from the University of Victoria, and a MSW and PhD from the University of Calgary.  Her postgraduate career was spent working as a consultant to non-profit organizations in the area of policy and program development and evaluation. She has combined her passion for making programs more equitable and accessible to diverse individuals, with her research interests, which include student engagement and experience, organizational change, community service-learning, Participatory Action Research, and interpretive research approaches. 

David Turner, Alberta Health Services

David Turner is a non-status Indian of Saulteaux (Fairford Band, Manitoba) and African American descent. David has advocated diligently on behalf of the First Nations homeless population in his various employment roles. He has been a part of the consultation on Homelessness Partnering Strategy and has worked with many of the local housing service organizations to increase cultural safety for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness. In addition, David has 30 years’ experience facilitating complex government contracts and public relations with Indigenous communities across Canada. David currently works at Alberta Health Services as a Community Engagement Advisor in the Indigenous Health Program

Jerry Arshinoff, None

Jerry Arshinoff was the Principal of the Plains Indians Cultural Survival School (PICSS) (1980 -1998), during which time enrolment increased from 60 to over 600. During those same years Jerry was the Executive Director of the separate PICSS Society Native Women's Day Care Centre (also utilizing Indigenous-based curriculum) and the separate PICSS Society Job Training Centre. More recently, Jerry has worked as an elected Alberta Municipal Council Member (2013 - 2017), an Economic Advisor to an Alberta First Nation (2012-2013), the Foundation Division Lead for the Calgary Fresh Start Recovery Centre (2011), a Member of the Board of Directors for Calgary Inn From the Cold Society (2006-2008), and most notably, the recipient of the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada (1992).

Marlena Bullee, Mount Royal University

Marlena Bullee is of Cree ancestry and a member of Bigstone Cree Nation of Northern Alberta. She is the eldest of 5 children. She is currently enrolled in the Social Work Program at Mount Royal University, in Calgary, Alberta. Marlena worked as a Research Assistant on this project. She recognizes that she is fortunate to have come from a family of strong Indigenous woman who have inspired her to challenge her limits. Being a Research Assistant on this project also offered an opportunity to learn and work with others from Indigenous communities, which is a priority for her.

Reanne Arcand, Mount Royal University

Reanne is a First Nations woman, student, and mother who has a strong passion for Indigenous people’s rights and wellbeing. She is from a small reserve outside of Edmonton, Alberta called Enoch Cree Nation. She is the mother to one son, Brantley. He is a reminder to why she chose social work as a career and why she wants to give back and finish school. Reanne is currently enrolled in the Social Work Program at Mount Royal University, in Calgary, Alberta, and worked as a Research Assistant on this project.