Beloved Saskatchewan teacher’s death from COVID-19 renews vaccination calls

The death of a beloved educator in Prince Albert from COVID-19 is renewing calls to do more to protect teachers in Saskatchewan, including get them vaccinated faster.

Victor Thunderchild was a teacher and guidance counselor for nearly 30 years. He was one year from retirement when he contracted the virus and died Saturday morning.

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“He was so compassionate, passionate about everything, just making sure that people go the attention, the love and the caring that needed, especially the youth,” his brother, Henry, told Global News.

Thunderchild helped spearhead revitalizing the Cree language in Saskatchewan.

“Working with residential school survivors was a big thing for him and that played a major role in his part of working with youth, especially, who were products of people who have gone through residential school,” his brother said.

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One of those kids was John McDonald. Thunderchild taught his grade 10 Cree class; they remained friends until his death.

“I was a 15, 16-year-old kid living in the roughest part of town and at that time I was just a guy walking around with long hair and a big, leather jacket and a bad attitude,” said McDonald, a residential school survivor.

Read more: Saskatoon COVID-19 vaccination drive-thru closing on Sunday night

“I was a very young man with no connection to my culture.” That was, until Thunderchild took him under his wing. He introduced McDonald to powwows, and drumming.

“Here it is some 25, 26 years later I’m a drum keeper myself, I’m an Indigenous storyteller, I’ve been gifted medicine, I’m called upon in a role of a knowledge keeper, I’ve been called upon as a senior, as a powow dancer,” he said.

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McDonald said Thunderchild’s absence is being felt across the community, including his own daughter, who had just started being taught by the same man who changed her father’s life.

Calls to the province to do more

Before his death from COVID-19, Thunderchild had tweeted at Premier Scott Moe, calling for teachers to be vaccinated.

Now his family is echoing his call.

“Hopefully Scott Moe and the government can see education is one thing that we need to get through in life, especially in today’s day and age,” said his daughter, Ryanda Thunderchild.

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Thunderchild’s family is not alone.

Victoria Dyck and her husband are both teachers. Her husband was diagnosed with a rare cancer shortly before the pandemic; he finally returns to work this week.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan’s top doctor reassures safety of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after 1st blood clot reported in Canada' Saskatchewan’s top doctor reassures safety of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after 1st blood clot reported in Canada
Saskatchewan’s top doctor reassures safety of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after 1st blood clot reported in Canada

Meanwhile, Dyck is now self-isolating in their basement after testing positive for COVID-19.

When she heard about Thunderchild’s passing, and her family’s own experience, she penned a letter to the provincial government calling for teachers and school staff to be protected.

“Some things that have been voiced to me have been ‘We need to keep going to work, we need to keep putting food on the table for our children,’” she said.

“I believe that we can continue to push to get our staff vaccinated that that keeps the doors open to the schools.”

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Read more: Saskatchewan reports 43 in ICU, 243 new COVID-19 infections

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation said it worries Thunderchild’s death won’t be the last.

“Sadly it’s disappointing, but at the same point not completely surprising,” said president Patrick Maze.

“We knew that we were taking chances with people’s lives and this is the result.”

The province said Saskatchewan’s vaccine rollout will continue as planned.

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