Students learn Anishinabek culture and language from local elders

Connie Manitowabi is an elder from Garden River First Nation who spends time in Sault Ste. Marie area classrooms. She visits students from kindergarten to high school to share Anishinabek language, history and culture.

Elder uses history of residential schools as a teaching tool in the classroom

Elder Connie Manitowabi says she incorporates cooking projects in the Elders in the Classroom program. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Sharing the language, culture and history of Garden River First Nation and the Anishnaabe people is what Elders in the Classroom is all about. Connie Manitowabi is one of those elders.

"Last year there were 12 of us that were going into 10 schools within the Sault Ste. Marie area, both the separate school board and the public school board from Kindergarten to Grade 8, and then there were also four high schools that were part of the project," said Manitowabi.

"When I get to go in and see the younger grades, a lot of what I'm doing is singing songs with them and playing games or reading stories," said Manitowabi. "When we're in with the older grades, we've gone into the cooking classes and shared making bannock and scones, and teaching the language through that process," she explained.

Manitowabi has also shared her pow wow experiences — the dances and the etiquette — and some of the history of residential schools. 


"The teachers are embracing it," said Manitowabi. She added that sometimes it feels like the teachers are asking more questions than the students.

One of the games for the younger students involved a six-sided cube. Each side of the cube has a picture on it. The students are seated in a circle and the cube is tossed to one of them. The student who catches the cube says the word represented by the picture and then performs the action. 

Manitowabi says when she's out and about in the community, it's a joy to run into a student and share the language outside the classroom. 

With files from Waubgeshig Rice