New Brunswick

New UNB program teaches Wabanaki culture to future educators

In a large, open-concept building near Magaguadavic Lake, 60 kilometres from the University of New Brunswick's Fredericton campus, 35 bachelor of education students are taking part in a new program to help them better understand their Indigenous culture — and teach it to others.

Four-year bachelor of education program is taught in an unconventional classroom far from UNB main campus

Imelda Perley and David Perley have spent three years creating the curriculum for the Wabanaki Bachelor of Education at UNB. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC)

In a large, open-concept building near Magaguadavic Lake, 60 kilometres from the University of New Brunswick's Fredericton campus, 35 bachelor of education students are taking part in a new program to help them better understand their Indigenous culture — and teach it to others.

They are the first group of academics to take the four-year Wabanaki Bachelor of Education through UNB with David Perley and Imelda Perley. 

"We're arming them so that they will be there to provide a Wabanaki perspective and not just the Acadian perspective, or the English perspective" said David Perley, director of the Mi'kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at UNB.

The students will spend the next four years learning about treaties and history through a Wabanaki lens. David Perley and Imelda Perley, an elder-in-residence at UNB, have spent the last three years creating the new curriculum and getting it approved. 

"There has to be a balance," said David Perley. "Our schools and New Brunswick should know and be aware of the Wabanaki perspectives on the history of New Brunswick as well."

The Wabanaki take in five tribes in eastern Canada and the United States, including the Wolastoqey, Passamaquoddy, Mi'kmaq, Abenaki and Penobscot First Nations.

Talking sticks part of class

Of the 35 students in the class, 30 are Indigenous, representing many of New Brunswick's First Nations.

Part of the Wabanaki Bachelor of Education includes teachings of the cultures of the five different tribes in the Wabanaki Confederacy. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC)
As part of the class, they each made their own talking stick and decorated them with carvings and paintings to tell the stories of their lives. 

Shelley Solomon of the Tobique First Nation said her talking stick tells the story of the school where she plans to teach one day.

"This is me, going to be a teacher at that school, and I'm going to become the principal," she said pointing to a turtle made from clay sitting atop her stick. 

Terry Francis, also of the Tobique First Nation, said she looks forward to being a positive influence as a teacher. Her stick tells the story of taking two paths in life — destructive or positive. 

While she said her own path was once destructive, "I keep coming back to the positive way of life." 

The students have also taken part in talking circles and other ceremonies as part of their curriculum. They will learn teaching methods that incorporate specific cultural aspects, such as using drumming to teach counting, coloured ribbons to address emotions, or encouraging the connection children naturally have with the land.

"It's the revival of how we learned on the land, before we were put into classrooms," said Imelda Perley. "Our classroom was the land, was the forest, was the seasons. That's what is exciting for me."

With files from Catherine Harrop

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