Hundreds of students from Grade 7-12 spent Friday at the University of Winnipeg learning about Indigenous arts and culture as part of the Manito Ahbee Festival weekend.

Youth were immersed in the one-day cultural education experience, learning from community elders about the Medicine Wheel and other cultural concepts and activities as part of the festival's efforts to connect Ingenious culture to non-Indigenous people and Indigenous people who may not be living a traditional way of life.

Lisa Meeches, the executive director of the festival, said arts and culture are unique tools that can support kids and build bridges between different communities.

"We wanted to even out the playing field and by saying that, I mean really have an indepth look at what these young people are missing — if there is something spiritual — because you don't have to be Indigenous to feel the gap or the void in your life," said Meeches.

Students spent the day learning about the seven sacred laws that cover love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth. Students also had smaller sessions where they got to hear from throat singer Nikki Komaksiutiksak, watch the Manitoba Métis Dancers and even try their hand at a few Indigenous games. 


École John Henderson Middle School student Réal Jacob listens to one of the teachings of the seven sacred laws. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

Grade 7 student Réal Jacob said he has been to other Indigenous activities and that he learned a lot from today's event.

"So far I've learned about love, respect and courage which is really cool because I learned that you can love anybody in the world, respect is something you learn about, and you teach everybody in the world by showing respect to them. And courage is showing courage to go and say if somebody is being bullied, you can tell somebody to stop or help them out," said Jacob.

The École John Henderson Middle School student said he has always been drawn to Indigenous culture, and said if anyone who wasn't there asked him about the day, he'd have a lot to tell them.

"I'd tell them that they missed out on something amazing and that they missed out on a learning opportunity and I could just tell them all the things I learned but it would probably take me a while because I'm learning so much already," said Jacob.


Mysti Audy, a Grade 6 student, listens to community activist Michael Champagne speak about love, one of the seven sacred laws. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

Mysti Audy, a Grade 6 student from Bruce Middle School, said despite being Cree her family hasn't lived a very traditional life and she enjoyed the exposure from today's activities. 

"I'm taking in my backstory, of my family back then and what they believed in and how they used to live, and I kind of find that a little personal, and I like feeling that," said Audy.

The 12-year-old said up until now she hasn't had much exposure to Indigenous arts and culture.

"I just never really learned very much about it. I was in a powwow twice when I was little. I don't really remember much of it but I just want to learn more about my culture to see if it I like or not."

The Manito Ahbee Festival continues Friday with the Indigenous Music Awards and will run until Sunday.

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