New First Nations courses at Lakeside Academy open students up to different cultures

Lakeside Academy is working to give students a deeper understanding of First Nations communities, starting with the Mohawk culture course in the seventh grade.

Program will span from grade seven to grade 11 and be integrated into other courses

Student Jahneici Perotte Stewart said she's looking forward to learning more about other cultures. (Sara King-Abadi/CBC)

In the seventh grade art class at Lakeside Academy, Delta Jacobs carves a portrait of a Native woman into a linoleum rectangle.

The stamp will be dipped in paint and pressed against a cotton square along with her classmates' to make a Thanksgiving quilt.

"Mine represents the people, so I chose a picture of a native woman," said Jacobs, who is Mohawk.

The project is part of a new three-week Mohawk Culture course at the Lachine high school.

Jacobs said she really enjoyed seeing people learn about her culture.

The goal is to give students a deeper understanding of First Nations communities, starting with the Mohawk culture course in the seventh grade.

It was put together with the help of members of the Kahnawake community.

Teachings woven through all courses

Guest speakers and teachers embedded the lessons on Mohawk culture in creative ways through oral tradition courses, storytelling into history, art, French, English and music classes.

For example, the stamps students made in art class are representative of a Mohawk tradition, the Thanksgiving Address, a prayer about giving thanks for life. They learned it from a representative of Kahnawake.

The students then picked a topic from the address to carve into their stamps.

Delata Jacobs (left) and Jahneici Perotte Stewart carve linoleum stamps as part of a new course. (Sara King-Abadi/CBC)

In English class, the students made Totem Poles as a way to share their own stories with their classmates.

A dancer from Kahnawake taught the students about hoop dancing and storytelling.

Going forward, the program will tackle different subjects each year.

In eighth grade, students will learn about different First Nations cultures.

From grades nine to 11 students will learn about more delicate issues, such as about residential schools or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

"You can then start talking about, and having probably a little more understanding of why it was so horrible in terms of the residential schools and what that really meant to the culture,"  said Jane Preston, a coordinator at Lakeside Academy.

"Because if you don't understand the culture, you don't fully understand those implications," 

The school already has a small Mohawk population and holds a student-driven Mohawk assembly each year, but the staff at Lakeside wanted to go deeper when it comes to First Nations Education.

Delta Jacobs, who is Mohawk, says she enjoys seeing people learn about her culture through the course. Here, she carves a rubber stamp. (Sara King-Abadi/CBC)

"Representation is extremely important," said Jessica Marrone, a visual arts teacher at the school.

"Some of what [students] learn in elementary school is very basic and there are times where they can go through their entire school careers without having studied First Nations Peoples."

Learning about culture

After learning about different aspects of First Nation culture, some seventh graders are excited to learn more about all cultures.

"I am looking forward to having more things like this so I can understand other people" said Jahneici Perotte Stewart, another student in the course.

"How they eat and how they sleep and other ways of helping them."

Perotte-Stewart said she would like to learn more about Indian culture, as she is Indian.

For Lisi Etok, who is Inuit, the courses are a lesson in thinking about others.

"We have to learn about other things that are going on in this world," she said.

"There's so many cultures and yet some people just think about their culture … [Some] people are self-centered, thinking their way is the best way. So I find it helps, making sure there are other ways," she added.