Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Museum kits teach aboriginal heritage

Creators hope materials will keep kids in school

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Aboriginal youth are the fastest-growing demographic in Manitoba, but half of the kids on First Nation communities drop out of school.

Later this month, tool kits to help kids from reserves learn hands-on about their heritage so they'll want to be in class are being delivered to several northern schools.

Bull roarers, medicine baskets, residential school relics, photos, stories and other artifacts are part of the Manitoba Museum program.

"It's a way to make the galleries come alive," said Vanda Fleury, who spent 16 months working with northern schools and elders to come up with 12 kits for middle and high school students.

Fleury, who is Métis, grew up around Hamiota and attended Brandon University before going to the University of Manitoba to work on a master's degree in native studies.

Close to 90 per cent of Canadian youth finish high school, but only 67 per cent of aboriginal youth off reserve and an estimated 50 per cent on reserve finish high school, Fleury said.

Mainstream education and aboriginal people being written out of history for so long may have something to do with it, she said.

The kits have been made in hopes of luring them back.

At a time of year when Winnipeg schools are going on field trips to the Manitoba Museum, the museum is going to schools up north in big plastic tubs on wheels.

They're full of items meant to be touched and passed around. They're not precious museum relics but replicas. Some pieces are new -- like real turtle-shell rattles and hand-painted wooden walking sticks.

The kits explore the themes of identity, community and resiliency -- topics that fall flat in standard textbooks written by faraway authors.

"I hope it awakens a sense of pride in our heritage," Fleury said. "There's a lot to be proud of and a lot to be celebrated."

Manitoba elders, teachers, artists and authors helped to create the kits and teaching guides.

Local history and aboriginal languages are part of the lessons. One of the dozen kits explores heroes, the fur trade, Treaty 5, residential schools and games and sports. Another looks at fashion, powwows, northern Cree technology, archeology and plants.

There are six copies of each of the 12 kits that will circulate through northern schools, Fleury said. The project received a $106,379 federal museums assistance grant with in-kind donations from the Manitoba Museum, she said.

Volunteers and elders have been keen to help First Nations youth know their past so they can move forward, she said.

"You have to know where you come from to know where you're going."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2012 A9

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