IVAC January 2019
Welcome back to you all. I hope everyone is renewed and ready for the next leg of the school year.
I wanted to draw your attention to the beautiful painting at the top of the page. It was not credited in the search results, but this is an amazing example of some of the artwork done by Native Canadian and American artists. I love art, both as a subject of study and activity, and it would be a great idea to get to know some of the talented and evocative First Nation artists that have upheld the traditional artistic expression of their culture and those who are pushing the boundaries and creating exciting new forms. Here are a few of my favourites – Kenojuak Ashevak (Nunavut), Christi Belcourt, Jackson Beardy, Norval Morriseau (the genre-shifting master!), Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, and Teresa Young.
Contemporary artists have infused their works with strong political and social commentary, and I think it would be interesting to use any of their works to kickstart a discussion about messaging and cultural identity and pride. It would also be neat to do a comparative study of Jackson Beardy and Norval Morriseau to discuss how each artist depicts their world. I think Morriseau is a genius and undoubtedly paved the way for all the others who took their own path while still demonstrating reverence for their culture and history. Having a gallery walk through the works of any of these artists is well worth the time it takes to create a Powerpoint . Obviously, an homage to this style of artistic expression by having students create original works would be the culmination of any discussion and study.
I wanted to share with you the dreamcatcher activity that I did with my Grade 4 to 8 students. We were engaged with reading from Speaking Our Truth:A Journey Towards Reconciliation and I asked them to walk in another’s footsteps and share their feelings on a post-it and trap the negative emotions in the strings. Reconciliation would create the positive feelings on the other side of the net. Students did take some words directly from the text, which was fine because it demonstrated engagement with the text.
Now, we are not reading our way through the book every class. Rather, I am inserting cultural activities and projects where I think they will work. The chapter addressed the loss of cultural celebrations and ceremonies, so I stopped to teach the kids about powwows. We talked about the dancing, drumming, regalia, and protocol, as well as the tipi’s significance. We are now working on a powwow ground diorama!
I love dioramas! Students have made quite a few and I have made a few to use as a visual tool to help evoke discussion and observation. Here is one that I made to talk about families and homes.
We looked for what makes this family similar to ours and what makes them different. I also asked how many girls and boys were in the family and, when the answer was roundly incorrect, we had a discussion about the importance of hair and what it represents for First Nations people. Fatty Legs and I Am Not A Number also talk about it. I was a little startled when students decided the family was poor and that the father must not have a job, but it was a fantastic opportunity to discuss (gently) our own prejudices. It also led to some personal reflection about what we would never want to have taken from us.
My earlier grades, 1 to 3, are also engaged in a cultural study. I normally don’t double up like this, but everyone is having fun, so I’m going with it. I am using the Raven Tales series as a jumping off point for observation, discussion, and projects. Raven and Eagle were a fun place to start and I used them to talk and write about character traits – Raven is naughty, lazy, sneaky, funny – and I intend to transfer this learning and apply it to ELA. We were learning to identify and describe 3D solids in math class so I decided to use the opportunity to construct nets and we each made Raven and Eagle.
After reading The Sea Wolf, we made canoes and paddles and loaded our boats with nets and fishing poles. The students understood that the tribe depended on the sea for food and that Sea Wolf needed to be thanked for providing for them, which is a gentle introduction to the idea that the Spirit lives in everything. It is also a great explanation of the Cree worldview, which puts mankind at the bottom of Creation. For the Cree, the Creator created the soil first followed by water, air, animals, and plants. Humans are on the bottom of that inverted triangle, as everything must die in order for us to live. To quote the elder from whom this lesson came, “I’m not better than a blade of grass…that plant makes the oxygen I breathe.” He emphasized our connectedness when he said, “It is a twist of DNA that differentiates us from the trees”. I really, really want to get further into this with you, but that will have to wait for a later newsletter. In the meantime, here are our canoes!
I just introduced the history and use of the wampum belt, which tied in nicely with the unit on Egypt that they completed in the first term. Both cultures communicated pictorially. First Nations history is oral in nature, but notions still needed to communicate with each other-thus, the wampum belt. We are going to be talking about the significance of colours used and the iconography that would have been a universal language. We will also talk about the wampum as a binding contract “as long as the river flows” and the differences between how contracts are understood by Europeans and First Nations people.
I plan on having all the students create a wampum belt, and I will share that with you later!
Okay, I want to end this newsletter with some book recommendations. There is a series that I consider the best around, written by Bobbie Kalman. These books are incredibly strong on visuals and the information is presented in snippets that are great on their own or can lead to a more in-depth subject of study later.
I came up with a neat idea for these books, which I will share with you in a later newsletter (so many ideas, so little time!) but they are great books to just have in the classroom library. They are all about homes, food, customs, social structure, travel, clothing, and history, full of opportunities for projects, discussion, and comparative study.
Well, I guess that’s it for now. I hope that I’ve helped kickstart some ideas and lessons for you to work with and that you are inspired to take it a little further in your own unique way. Remember – choose something that interests you, have fun with your lessons, and take small steps for those are always the surest.