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Students sample aboriginal culture

Jackie Frank (left) poses with one of her button blankets with Grade 8 student Taylor Eldridge.  - Photo by Lindsay Chung
Jackie Frank (left) poses with one of her button blankets with Grade 8 student Taylor Eldridge.
— image credit: Photo by Lindsay Chung

Dreamcatchers, button blankets and woven sashes are important pieces of aboriginal culture in Canada, and Cumberland Junior School students recently had a chance to learn all about these and other aspects of aboriginal culture and history during a day-long Aboriginal Day celebration at the school.

Every student in the school had a chance to participate in six workshops that touched on aboriginal culture from near and far.

Presentations included bannock with Carrie Dumont, Nuu-chah-nulth whaling with Roland Ginger, Lahal with Vanessa Isaac, cedar with Suzanne Camp, games and toys with Jackie Lever, Métis weaving with Tonia Larson-Gagne, Northwest Coast art with John Powell, drumming with Mavis Aubichon, Morrisseau art with Gail Martindale, K’ómoks history with April Shopland, salmon barbecue with Cory Frank, dreamcatchers with Ann Billie, medicine wheel with Erin Brillon and button blankets with Jackie Frank.

Leadership students at Cumberland Junior School helped organize the day, and Nala’atsi students helped prepare lunch for aboriginal students, staff and presenters.

Last year, School District 71’s aboriginal education department held Louis Riel Day at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School, and aboriginal education teacher Jackie Lever says they wanted to do something similar this year, but the event soon expanded to include more than Métis history.

“Once we started talking to Gina Taylor and Carrie Dumont (at Cumberland Junior), they wanted something that was aboriginal as well,” she said. “We decided we wanted to find presenters to showcase from around Canada. We have a lot of presenters this year. What started out as just a celebration for Métis, we’ve made a whole aboriginal celebration.”

Leading up to Aboriginal Day, Cumberland Junior School put up a Métis display all week, and students did activities every day in their advisory group.

“We haven’t gotten to Cumberland Junior much, so we thought what an opportunity this was to go to a secondary school where their curriculum touches on aboriginal history and culture and show the students these things hands-on,” said Lever. “It’s a lived history. It’s not something that’s just in books.”

Lever felt Aboriginal Day was a great chance to bring the community together.

“I’m very excited we get the opportunity to go into schools and bring in community members, as well as our aboriginal education staff, as well as members of the Cumberland Junior staff, to bring everyone in and have that celebration is very exciting,” she said. “Of course, I’m always excited about Louis Riel Day, too, and talking about Métis culture. This gives us an opportunity to talk about our history and to feel proud and to have students of aboriginal and Métis culture feel proud.”

Roland Ginger spoke to students about Nuu-chah-nulth whaling, sharing information about the Ginger side of his family. He brought items such as clothing, bentwood boxes, trade beads and dentalium shells, which were a form of trade.

“It’s an oral history, our songs and stories we told at potlatches or to children while they were eating food,” said Ginger. “Some of the students have aboriginal ancestry, and some have been to the west coast — Tofino, Bamfield, Nootka Island — which is mainly what my slideshow talks about.”

Ginger was happy to be part of Aboriginal Day, and he felt he learned as much from the students as they learned from him.

“For me, I love teaching and sharing my knowledge, and there are always students who bring something new,” he said.

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