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Walking in their shoes

School to hold smudge ceremonies as part of native studies course

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The school grounds at J.H. Bruns Collegiate in suburban Southdale may not have seen many smudge ceremonies over the years -- but that's about to change.

Three years into an innovative Grade 12 course in native studies, Bruns is about to start holding smudge ceremonies once a week.

And this spring, students and teachers will go to a sweat lodge for course credit.

Social studies teachers Lesley Sisco and Marla Pott introduced the school-initiated course after aboriginal parents approached the school asking for more core content reflecting their culture and history.

She's non-aboriginal, said Pott, and so are almost all the 20 students in the course. None of them is happy with his or her lack of knowledge about aboriginal people prior to starting the course.

"We move through the curriculum slowly, because they don't know a lot -- it doesn't sit well with them" their previous years in school left them knowing so little, said Pott.

"When the kids get it is when we do residential schools," she said.

The course is a full semester and this year both Dakota Collegiate and Nelson McIntyre Collegiate picked it up. All three schools are in the Louis Riel School Division.

The program relies heavily on elders and other aboriginal visitors bringing their knowledge into the classroom. "I bring in a lot of guest speakers," Pott explained.

The class starts with a sharing circle, everyone passing around a stick, the person holding the stick then sharing with everyone else his or her recent experiences or thoughts on a subject.

While she attends every professional development session and in-service she can find, Pott acknowledged her own education was lacking about aboriginal perspectives.

"Not a lot, to be honest," she said. "I'm part of the journey with them."

Student Emily Erickson said she enrolled to learn more about her own Métis heritage. She's been struck by how much of aboriginal culture and heritage is oral: "Nothing's written, it's a way of life. I like how peaceful it is."

Elsa Taylor said what she learned before Grade 12 was limited.

"History is written by the winners -- these stories actually belong to them," Taylor said. "It's really important we learn about aboriginal culture; people have been so mistreated in the past."

Oscar Zheng plans to study business in university and figured the more he knows about different cultures, the better.

Taylor Veideman said each class brings something she didn't know before.

One of those topics was the Oka crisis.

"I was surprised we weren't taught (previously) about Oka," said Erickson. "It was an eye-opener about the problems going on between aboriginal people and the government."

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2011 B1

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