By Tami Watt, Editor
Bryce Thompson, Snipe clan, originally from the Cattaraugus Territory, has made the decision to retire after dedicating his extensive career to the education system, both on and off territory. Mr. Thompson was instrumental in the developing the Seneca Language Regents exam as an alternative for Indigenous high school students back in 1986.
His career in education started 1980 with the Seneca Nation Education Department’s Johnson O’Malley Program that was set up to provide assistance to students attending Gowanda, Silver Creek and Salamanca School Districts through shared resources, study groups, tutorial services, adult education programs, and activities to promote healthy communities. “We worked hard to give the students and the families a support system that was beneficial to their needs. We did our best to ensure success if they stayed in school and graduated. We tried to run the program as well as we could with the resources available at the time.”
Thompson transferred to the Gowanda School District’s Title VII Bilingual Program in 1984 as the Instructional Services Coordinator while working toward his Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at Fredonia State College. The Seneca Nation Education Department was an instrumental resource for Thompson as an instructor.
He was paired with a fluent speaker, Lee Hemlock, and the two of them were assigned to teach 7th and 8th grade students Seneca Language. Together, Thompson and Hemlock introduced various Seneca Language lessons centered-around simple conversations about weather, health and food/meal times. These lessons laid the ground work for the Seneca Language high school curriculum developed by the pair which lead to not only receiving credits toward graduation but New York State Regents credit, a first for any Indigenous language in the state in 1986. Their efforts paved the way for Indigenous students to take three years of their own language as opposed to French and Spanish.
Thompson credits these years as some of his most rewarding work throughout his long career. During the summers, his team ran Seneca Language immersion camps at the Seneca Nation’s Highbanks Campgrounds. “We tried to instill the language the best we could in a short period of time. Fluent speakers would lead the conversation with limited English opportunities with games and activities throughout the day with vocabulary. It was a great experience!”
“Our future depends our youth. We need to support them and provide them opportunities and the right experiences as they grow. I wish the best for everyone and hopefully our youth will continue to find success and grow our strong nation,” states Thompson.
Funds from the Title VII program expired but the Gowanda School District hired him in 1988 as a 4th grade teacher. He continued to teach various grades, classes and earned certifications from BOCES while continuing his education, eventually earning his Masters Degree and School Administrator certifications while also working part time as a police officer. Thompson explained, “As an educator in the classroom, Native children had the opportunity to see a Native teacher providing education in the public school they attended and I am fortunate I was able to provide that experience. There was a unique opportunity to be a role model and I relish that I held that responsibility. I hope that I did a good job instilling a positive image for the kids to aspire to do more than just attend school or play sports, there was more to it than that.”
In addition to elementary education, Thompson taught Iroquois History to high school students while at Gowanda and was able to secure graduation credit for students in lieu of Participation in Government/Economics in their 11th and 12th grade years. “We kept trying to pull things together with the language and history, providing positive experiences for the kids and information so they had an understanding on how the Iroquois Confederacy continued to survive through contact with Europeans and post contact through the evaluation of the colonial period, how the United States was born and how we continued to be an independent Nation working with them.”
Rick Jemison and Kerwin Huff were instrumental in providing resources via the Title IV program through the Education Department. “They provided the research and information and I was the conduit to the classroom,” Thompson states.
Thompson transferred to the Attica Central School District in 1999 first as the Assistant Principle, then Principle, and finally Superintendent, a position he held for 20 years until the end of the year. His last day with students was December 23, 2021. Thompson was recognized by the Attica Music Department during the holiday band concert for his 20+ years of service to the district and his support of the arts, athletics and extracurricular activities. Students and staff honored him with roses and an original painting by talented student artist Kaidan Hofheins.
Thompson’s tenure at Attica brought stability, commitment, and various infrastructure updates. He is also very proud of Attica’s drop out rates that improved from 77% to 98% and some years up to 100%. Thompson had very few student drop outs and was committed to providing the right support and services. Over the years, he has watched many students grow and become successful adults not only through college but the workforce and business ventures as well.
“It’s important for us to realize that we strive to improve ourselves but we should always remember our roots, where we are from and what our values are. We don’t have to stop being Native because we’re doing something off reservation, we carry that with us in our heart and we don’t have to give up one for the other. We can continue to strive for our goals and be successful and still be Seneca while we are doing it.”