Sam Sherratt Public School Grade 8 student David says he’s happy to have learned so much about aboriginal education including the cultural importance of the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Honesty, Truth, Wisdom, Love, Bravery/Courage, Respect and Humility.
As a student with native background, David says these kinds of teachings are important because everyone should better understand cultures so society can live with a sense of goodwill.
“It made me understand what their life would have been like,” David says about natives. “It was good.”
The Milton school set aside a series of days to learn about aboriginal culture this school year, culminating in a daylong event called, Aboriginal Right to Play Day. It included students and staff attending a rare smudging ceremony. Doug Doolittle, an elder from Six Nations, performed the ceremony by lighting and creating smoke from a combination
of sage, Indian tobacco, cedar and sweet grass to cleanse everyone of negative feelings.
Students and staff joined in a huge circle outside during a sunny morning in May and Doolittle walked around, gently waving the smoke toward them. It was “a great opportunity for students to participate in a traditional aboriginal spiritual ritual,” explains Anna Hazlett, teacher at Sam Sherratt Public School and one of the organizers.
During the ceremony, Doolittle reminded students that at one point in Canadian history it was illegal to speak in a native language in class, eliciting some gasps from those in attendance.
In addition to the smudging ceremony, students created and hosted a rotation of native games and activities to teach each other about various aspects of aboriginal history. The symbol of a circle was also incorporated throughout the stations and represented values important and applicable to all cultures.
“I sat down with Doug Doolittle and consulted with him about traditional games for the rotation plan,” Hazlett says. “The games were designed to embed Aboriginal culture in as many ways as possible such as history, arts, crafts, games, respect for Mother Earth and story-telling.”
For example, stations included a drums-and-dance demonstration put on by Ojibway White Pine Dancers to celebrate culture through ritualistic practices; storytelling by Doolittle, which demonstrated the importance of keeping traditions and beliefs alive through oral tradition; and the making of bannock and strawberry juice by Six Nations resident, Janace Henry, for students to sample.
Doolittle says he was honoured to be a part of the event.
“When I found out what it was about, I wanted to help plan and provide some input. I am honoured ‘mainstream’ society is trying to learn about the real history of the First Nations.”
He hopes students and staff learned about “honour and to respect each other, the First Nations and Mother Earth.” Doolittle was especially happy that students and staff members took part in the smudging ceremony.
“Whenever we do anything in a group, we should smudge to clear the air and ourselves. I see the students participating and it makes them feel part of something bigger. That brings joy to my spirit, so it means everything to me.”
The day’s event, as well as the other periods of Aboriginal education, meant a lot to Principal Sharon Stookes. With so much for students to learn from the hours of native instruction, she says it was a “huge success”. Students learned about Aboriginal Heritage, dancing, food and games. They also learned about co-operation and gained leadership skills.
The curriculum tie is to the Ontario First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education Framework, specifically equity and respect for diversity, and celebrating our differences.
This day helped to raise staff and student awareness regarding the cultural identity of Aboriginal people, which supports the inclusive environment at Sam Sherratt, Stookes explains. One of the other ties was students making personal connections to Aboriginal culture. As part of preparing for the day, students used their literacy skills to engage in research regarding traditional games and how the game was connected to Aboriginal culture.
Stookes continues: “It is important to develop a better understanding of their culture, beliefs and traditions in order to develop greater sensitivity to the issues that Aboriginal people face. This has also helped to increase, as educators, our own cultural proficiency.”
For months, Right to Play student leaders researched the Aboriginal culture, contacted presenters, planned and ordered the food, planned the stations, went shopping for materials and made up the games. Approximately 35 intermediate students were involved with this under the direction of Hazlett and fellow teacher Fiona Marcy.
“They spent many nutrition breaks and their own time planning this event for the benefit of all,” Stookes says.