Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth has been a leader in the field of education for 30 years as a teacher, principal, and director of education. She is also a vocal advocate for the preservation of Indigenous language and culture, and serves as a role model for many.
“I love teaching. My goal was to teach Grade 5; however, the principal at Wollaston Lake School convinced me that I would do well with the little ones. When I started in 1987, I discovered that not one child spoke English. I took the opportunity to integrate the Dene language into the English kindergarten curriculum. It was then I realized the fun of teaching. When you create a nurturing environment for students, at any grade, the possibilities are endless.”
Tsannie-Burseth has overcome many obstacles to become the respected trailblazer she is today. She is a residential school survivor who persevered despite being taunted and forbidden to speak her language. She defied cultural expectations with her education and career path, paving the way for other women in her community and beyond.
“I attended residential school in the early 1960s,” she says. “I made plans then to become a teacher. My education curriculum at the residential school was not based on my linguistic nor socio-cultural background. At the same time, I always thought education was important, and knew I would teach someday.”
When time permits, Tsannie-Burseth enjoys writing about Dene history and teaching methodology and pedagogy. She also works tirelessly to ensure Indigenous languages are preserved and suggests all Saskatchewan residents can help their safeguarding by supporting research that analyzes the state of Indigenous languages in Saskatchewan.
Tsannie-Burseth has served as the director of education at Hatchet Lake First Nation, as Chief of the same community and, most recently, as associate director with the Prince Albert Grand Council. She has received numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Citizenship Award, Awasis Award, Role Model Award, Women of the Dawn Award, and Lieutenant Governor’s Award. While she is grateful for all the recognition that has come her way, receiving a distinguished alumni award from her alma mater is especially gratifying.
“Receiving this award is amazing. It means that I have contributed to my lifelong passion—teaching. I have had many compliments about receiving the award, mostly from women, and they tell me I am their mentor and role model.”
Tsannie-Burseth comes from a large, close-knit family of eleven children. Before her father passed away two years ago, he passed on many teachings that Tsannie-Burseth is dedicated to passing on to her three children and others. Her mother also lives at Wollaston Lake.
She loves to fish, pick berries and camp at Wollaston Lake. She is also an avid caribou hunter who admittedly hasn’t hunted for a few years because of the declining numbers of the species. She enjoys photography and takes photos of Elders, northern landscapes and family members. She lives with her husband, Robert Burseth, at MacDowall, Saskatchewan. She is currently working on a doctorate degree at the U of R that explores building curriculum that promotes Indigenous language and culture.