For 10 years, teachers in the Hanover School Division have tried to help their students develop a better understanding of Indigenous culture through the annual Indigenous Day event.
Students crowd around Métis storyteller Joe McLellan as he tries to engage them in a song.
They’re shy at first, until he suggests they try the Cree laughing song. He bangs on a drum and starts laughing heartily. The kids can’t help themselves, and start laughing immediately.
That kind of connection, says McLellan, is what Indigenous Day in Kleefeld, Man., is about.
“[For non-Indigenous students], they get to see that everyone has respect for First Nations culture and they can learn some of that, ask some questions. For Native students, they can see they’re learning about us,” says McLellan.
McLellan was part of this year’s Indigenous Day on Wednesday — an annual event put on for the last 10 years by three teachers and a group of volunteers in the Hanover School Division.
Connie Epp, a teacher at Green Valley School in Grunthal, Kleefeld teacher Stephanie Reimer and Peter Heese from Bothwell School combine school funds and efforts to organize the day each year to help their students learn about Indigenous culture.
Stations are set up around a park in the small community of Kleefeld — about 50 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg — where they learn about beadwork and bannock-making, storytelling through hoop dancing and drumming, and the significance of these traditions.
The hope is that the lessons will extend beyond the students, the organizers say.
“Truth and reconciliation talk means we need to be promoting and forwarding this information to students, which gets disseminated in their families,” said Heese.
“It has to percolate within our society so people can learn more and become more understanding.”
The hands-on exposure to Indigenous traditions may only last a day, but the lessons continue back in the classroom, he said.
“As teachers we can spend the rest of the year educating, promoting, and talking about and reflecting on this day. These are not dead issues — there are ongoing topics. They’re live and we talk about it all year.”
Students said the experience was both fun and eye-opening.
“I like learning what they did back then. I’m so interested in it, so I’m very excited,” said Grade 5 student Morgan Dauphinais.
“I learned about the teepee, how all the 13 poles meant something, the 13 full moons that passed for a year.”
Heese says every year, students ask him on the first day of school when Indigenous Day will be. He looks forward to working on plans for it every year because of how it seems to resonate with the kids, he said.
“The kids love it. They absolutely have a fantastic time.”
Hanover School Division have tried to help their students develop a better understanding of Indigenous culture through the annual Indigenous Day event. 2:32
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