After the landscape of learning changed this spring, members of the Indigenous Education Department began working alongside Indigenous grade 12 students at secondary schools throughout the Central Okanagan. Traditionally, Indigenous people across BC have gathered and worked in groups that represent the community with Elders, youth, knowledge keepers and skilled teachers. The focus is on the community before individuals. These sessions were purposefully set up this way with Maureen Ziprick as Elder, Will Poitras as knowledge keeper, and Kevin Kaiser and Naim Cardinal as teachers.
The purpose of this work was to create equitable opportunities for grade 12 learners. Students who had been experiencing challenges in a traditional classroom environment and those struggling with online learning were invited to participate in land based learning. Lessons were created and embedded with Indigenous Worldview and Perspective, each having a specific focus on both skills and story. Think of it as the original cross curricular classroom, where students were able to receive credits while showing learning in different ways.
Collaboration between various educators and administrators at these schools enhanced the learning environment and the outdoors became the classroom. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in a session where we built dream catchers using red willow and traditional medicines. Over the course of two hours, I could see how strong relationships were being built and a sense of community was developing between students, their families and staff.
Indigenous cultures have long passed down knowledge from generation to generation through oral traditions. Storytelling is a traditional method used to teach about cultural beliefs, values, customs, rituals, history, practices, relationships, and ways of life. It is a foundation for holistic learning, relationship building and experiential learning. I found myself wrapped up in stories that were shared not only by fellow educators, but by the students themselves. Learning alongside them provided the time and space needed for authentic connection and conversation to unfold.
Over the following weeks, arrows were made out of rose bushes and students were taught where and when to harvest them. They went on ethnowalks and learned about traditional medicines: sage, juniper, soap berries, birch bark and conks, flint, Indian hemp, antler, obsidian and buck brush. They ate moose meat chili and bannock while taking short breaks. Sweat lodges and traditional dwellings were constructed.
The unexpected shift to land based learning was a success, as evident when these students graduated with pride and dignity. The Indigenous Education Department cannot thank secondary teachers and administrators enough for allowing their amazing students to participate in this culturally responsive intervention.