British Columbia·Photos

Aboriginal education festival comes to B.C. school

Over 270 elementary school students packed the hallways and classrooms of John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver for a hands-on learning experience on Aboriginal culture.

'We are not historical, we are right now,' says Shane Pointe, VSB's first knowledge keeper

Powwow dance instructor Shyama Priya does a warm up with the students before teaching them a few steps. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Over 270 elementary school students packed the hallways and classrooms of John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver for a hands-on learning experience on Aboriginal culture.

"It's important for all these young people to know that we are right now," said Shane Pointe, Musqueam elder and Vancouver School Board's first knowledge keeper and elder in residence. 

"We are not historical, we are right now," Pointe said. 

Musqueam First Nation elder Shane Pointe is the Vancouver School Board's first knowledge keeper and elder in residence. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

First Nation artisans taught students about the medicine wheel, walked them through canoe protocols, and showed them West Coast designs.

It was all part of the school's first step at integrating the new B.C. curriculum, which has been re-designed to emphasize Aboriginal culture.

"It's one of our schools infuse First Nations understanding throughout the curriculum, not just in history class but in math, science and P.E.," said Tim McGeer, principal at John Oliver Secondary School. 

John Oliver Secondary School principal Tim McGeer said he's thankful for the redesign of the B.C. curriculum because it lets schools infuse First Nation understanding. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Exploring the arts

The Grade 6 and 7 students also took part in a powwow dance class that required serious stamina. 

"It's pretty fun, I can say that, but it is pain too sometimes," said Daniel Krishna, a Grade 7 student from John Henderson Elementary School on trying the dance steps for the first time. 

Elementary school students gathered at John Oliver Secondary School to learn about Aboriginal culture, including Powwow dance. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
Daniel Krishna, a Grade 7 student from John Henderson Elementary School, said learning powwow dance steps were really fun. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Students also learned about traditional cedar weaving. 

"It was really cool, I didn't know you could make a bracelet out of tree bark," said Shahna Venkatesh, a Grade 6 student from Walter Moberly Elementary School. 

Loretta Williams from the Tsawwassen First Nation taught the students how to make bracelets using traditional cedar bark weaving methods. She said students are often surprised these methods are still used. 

"Sometimes kids think we are just kind of mythical beings because it is all history. Everything is taught in the past tense," she said, "but this is what we still do."  

Students said they didn't know they could make bracelets out of cedar. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Proud moments

Tanner Mitchell, a Grade 12 Lil'wat Nation student at John Oliver Secondary School, guided the students through the activities and was glad he could teach them about his culture. 

"I like expressing my culture," he said, "I don't feel like I get to express it much because other people think it's a fragile subject because of the residential schools."

Tanner Mitchell, a Grade 12 Lil'wat Nation student at John Oliver Secondary School, said he is proud to teach others about First Nation culture. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The festival was wrapped up with a First Nation graduation ritual where students — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal —  were clothed in Coast Salish graduation gowns and took part in raising a pole to mark their transition into adulthood. 

Dave Robinson's 'Many Beings' sculpture was formally raised to mark the graduating students transition into adulthood. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)