Program brings Mi’kmaq culture to life for Grade 5 students

Diane Crocker
Published on April 29, 2014

Grade 5 students in Corner Brook have been studying aboriginal history and culture as part of their social studies program, but the lessons aren’t just coming from a textbook

For the past six weeks, members of the local Mi’kmaq community have been going into Humber Elementary and Sacred Heart sharing their culture and history with the students.

“I think that’s been really cool,” said Sacred Heart student Luke Thibeau while attending a mini powwow at the Royal Canadian Legion on Monday.

“I like stuff where I can hear about something and then do it myself. Everything we’re doing is all hands-on.”

Bringing the community into the schools is an initiative of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band and the Corner Brook Aboriginal Woman’s Association. Members of the band and association have brought the aboriginal culture — language, music, arts and crafts — to life for the students.

The mini powwow was a celebration of sorts for the program and all that’s been learned. The event brought together some 90 students from both schools.

The students participated in smudging, drumming — using drums they had made in class — a talking circle, craft making and traditional giveaways.

“We’re all telling each other about ourselves and there’s things I’m learning about my closest friends I never knew about them,” said Thibeau, 10, of the talking circle.

Thibeau said the experience has been cool.

“I know my family history ties into the Mi’kmaq and aboriginal ... so I think it’s really cool that I’m learning not just about everybody in my class, but myself at the same time.”

Humber Elementary student Ariana Baines, 10, was also excited to participate.

“I enjoyed playing the drums and talking,” she said. “I learned how important the word ‘respect’ is. Because you should be listening to everybody and not saying mean stuff.”

She also enjoyed learning about the history of the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland through the program.

“I really liked how they survived and (were) really close to mother earth.”

For Kevin Barnes, Qalipu’s western region vice-chief, sharing the culture with the young people is important.

“That’s the next generation of aboriginal leaders,” he said. “To get them at an early age, their minds are so bendable and workable.”

As for their reaction to the school visits and the powwow, Barnes said, “They’re sponges; they soak things up.”

Barnes is in favour of Mi’kmaq culture being part of the school curriculum and pointed to St. George’s as an example of where it is already included. He’d like to see the program just completed here expanded.

“It’s a new start with the schools that we’re going in to,” he said. “The aboriginal world is a sharing world.”

Michelle Matthews is the president of the Corner Brook Aboriginal Woman’s Association and one of the people who conducted the sessions in the schools. She taught students about the medicine wheel, the circle of life and respect for things given by the creator.

Like Barnes, Matthews said it’s the children the band wants to focus on. She said the sharing doesn’t stop in school, as the children also share what they’ve learned with their families.