Wordsmiths from across the province gathered to test their skills
- EFN Staff | May 01, 2023
The St. Jude’s theatre of E.D. Feehan High School in Saskatoon was buzzing as hundreds waited anxiously for the second Saskatchewan First Nations Spelling Bee to get started.
The day began with a prayer by Elder Frank Badger followed by an honour song performed by Mark Okicitaw to celebrate and inspire participants.
Emcees and volunteer organizers Lillian Denton and Lori McAuley said they were excited to be able to host the regional bee for First Nation youth again.
“What makes it special is it gives the opportunity for those kids to actually have a place on the national stage,” said McAuley. “So the winners in each category, Junior, Primary and Intermediate – the first-place winners – will be going to Toronto for nationals.”
The inaugural Saskatchewan First Nations Spelling Bee was held in 2016.
For McAuley, an educator and Principal of St. Frances Cree Bilingual School, the bee is more than a competition – it’s an opportunity for students to improve their spelling and reading abilities, but more than that – to build confidence and leadership skills.
“It makes them leaders just going up on that stage,” she said. “And when you see them come off the stage, they’re so excited about how they were actually able to go out and compete and face their fear of talking in public, which is something very difficult, especially for little children.”
That was the case for Kelry Campbell, who at 11 years old competed in her first spelling bee and won first place in the Junior category.
Kelry’s sisters Ava and Laya also participated in the competition, with Ava taking third place among the Junior participants and Laya securing second place in the Primary category.
For Kelry, she said winning first place and advancing to the national spelling bee championship felt really good. It was like all her hard work studying, after school and hockey practices, had paid off.
“It feels like, I don’t know how to say, it’s like amazing, like relieving, because I’ve been studying for a while,” she said after winning. “At first I was just like, ‘Can I really do it?’ I was very nervous. But once I got into top four I was like, ‘I can do this, I can spell.’”
It’s not just about winning, but about representing Indigenous people and her home community of English River First Nation.
“It’s just fun for me,” said Kelry. “Since I’m Indigenous, it just feels like I’m doing this for my people.”
After getting over her nerves, she realized she enjoyed her time on stage.
Kelry’s mom Sheylee beamed with pride for her daughters.
She said it was good to be at an all First Nation’s event because when they participate in activities, like piano, they’re often the only Indigenous kids taking part.
“I get emotional every time with my kids on stage,” she said. “I always tell them to stand proud and so I’m glad that this is (for) First Nations... It’s stepping stones and more opportunities for them.”
Kelry will fly to Toronto in May to compete alongside kids from across the country in the Spelling Bee of Canada national championships.