In 1976, Tom Bird began his career teaching Cree to students from nursery school to grade 12 in Montreal Lake. “It’s a way to show respect to teach people about our culture,” says Bird. “That’s what my grandparents taught me.” Unfortunately, Bird’s formal teaching career ended after 30 years due to his failing health.

Tom Bird teaches Cree every Tuesday to residents at Samaritan Place.

In February, Bird moved to Samaritan Place, a long term care facility in Saskatoon. Recollecting his experience, he says, “One day, I was sitting there doing nothing and I thought I’d like to use my expertise here.” He approached Carter Bannister, Life Enhancement Coordinator at Samaritan Place, to discuss his idea to embark on what he describes as an experimental program.

Since that discussion, between 15 and 20 residents gather every Tuesday where Bird teaches Cree. Participants choose what to learn. For example, he has held classes to teach the days of the week and place names in Saskatchewan.

“There are many awesome examples of resident-directed care living and breathing in homes throughout the Region,” says Audra Remenda, Care and Communication Consultant for Seniors’ Health and Continuing Care. “Every long term care home in the Region strives to create a sense of community. Tom’s contribution is one that deserves to be celebrated. Other residents are encouraged to share their gifts and talents for the growth of their communities.”

“To me, it means sharpening my skills from my old career,” says Bird. “I’ve missed teaching. For now, it’s all about fun. I’m a guide sharing my gifts.” He sees this as a way to contribute to his community as his grandparents had taught him. “It may be a person’s childhood dream to learn a new language.”