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The Archie Cunningham Family Legacy at Northern Lakes College

Posted on Apr 17, 2023

Emily Reynolds

It was an honour for Northern Lakes College to memorialize the efforts of long-time employee, Archie Cunningham, with a commemorative plaque unveiling at the High Prairie Campus in August 2022. Archie began his career at NLC in 1972, when he was hired as an instructor. Through the years of his employment, Archie moved into more administrative positions, and played an instrumental role in bringing College services to Indigenous and Métis communities.

A proud member of the Peavine Métis Settlement, Archie believed education was the key to supporting Indigenous success and cultural preservation in a colonial society. Even after his passing in 2021, his values regarding post-secondary education continue to live on in the lives of his children, children-in-law, and grandchildren.

“Archie was adamant in his family values,” his daughter-in-law, Candace Cunningham, reminisces. “He wanted all his children and grandchildren to be educated. That was a big thing – he was a strong advocate for post-secondary education.”

Candace was one of many people who found encouragement in Archie’s supportive nature. She remembers making the decision to pursue her own education while visiting her parents-in-law as a young woman, in the months after both of her children had started school.   

“I was visiting with him and Yvonne (Candace’s mother-in-law), and just discussing how, since the kids had started school, my days were just not as fulfilling as I’d hoped they’d be. And he said to me, ‘You know, my girl, there is a [Northern Lakes College] campus across from the school, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ and he just said, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’”

Candace would go on to register in the Health Care Aide program, realizing a dream she’d put aside since high school. She thrived in her field, and it wasn’t long before her supervisors encouraged her to return to studies in order to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. Again, Candace found encouragement in the words of her father-in-law.

“I was kind of on the fence about how long it would take me to get my Practical Nurse

Diploma after just completing my Health Care Aide certificate. And Archie just said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you? You’re bright, you know. You’re a smart girl. You have a lot of potential. What’s stopping you?’ And I thought to myself, ‘yeah – nothing is stopping me! Just my own fears.’ So, I registered in the Practical Nurse program in 2019.”

During her practicum, and before even graduating from her Practical Nurse program, Candace was presented with an offer of two different positions: one in Health Management and one in Community Health. After being provided additional months of training upon her hire, Candace now works as the Health Manager of Kapawe'no First Nation, and currently serves on the Indigenous Panel for the Alberta Ministry of Health. She continues to draw encouragement from her father-in-law’s words and plans to achieve her Registered Nurse degree within the next ten years.

Archie’s daughter, Emily Reynolds, a graduate of the University Studies program at Northern Lakes College, and now a grade six teacher, echoes the similar role her father played in her life, and the lives of her siblings. “Dad always told me I should pursue my master’s degree. It was a goal that he and I both had for me, when I graduated from my teaching program in 2008. When I graduated, it felt full circle. “One moment we were celebrating my graduation from my teaching program the next we were celebrating dad’s retirement from the college.” I was an older grad, and I had started a family, so there were many reasons not to pursue a master’s degree. Still, he’d always say, ‘You should really apply for your master’s degree.’ But I put it on the backburner. There were always other priorities: family, teaching, kids’ sports. Then he died April 19th 2021. The following November, it was his first ‘heavenly birthday,’ and I wanted to honor my dad the best way I knew how. So, I applied for my master’s degree. Because of my dad, and his consistent encouragement for furthering my educational journey, every day I feel that I have the best job in the world. I just do. I love what I do, I love the kids, and love spending time with my students. I was meant to be a teacher, and my dad saw that. For a while, I think he saw that more than I even did.”

The value Archie placed on education reached each person in his life, and the effects continue to ripple into the future. Emily’s eldest daughter, Archie’s grandchild, has applied to the Practical Nurse Diploma program. Emily’s sister, Karen Noskey, graduated from the University Studies Diploma program at the College, and went on to become a social worker. Charlotte, second eldest of the Cunningham sisters, completed the Health Care Aid program at the High Prairie campus. And while Archie’s legacy is sure to live on in his descendants, it is also marked on the walls of the High Prairie Campus.

“When NLC unveiled the plaque,” Emily remembers, “it just reminded all of us of his values, his perseverance, and his dedication to ongoing education. It’s a reminder of the values he instilled in the College that he loved. He was so proud of NLC. It was such an honour, seeing that plaque.”