Shayan Syed says it’s important for all Canadians to learn about indigenous culture.
The 13-year-old, a Grade 7 student at Ecole Gron Morgan, on Friday took part in Aboriginal Learning for Students, a collaboration between Lakehead Public Schools, Lakehead University’s education department and Fort William Historical Park.
The outing brought together students from Ecole Gron Morgan and Grade 12 students from Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute with student teachers from the university, and taught them traditional First Nation tales and games, snowshoeing, botany and dog sledding.
The idea was to provide both students and prospective teachers with a first-hand connection to the land and an understanding of Aboriginal life.
“It’s really, really important,” Shayan said.
“It’s a multicultural community, but Aboriginals were the first and it’s only fair that we learn about them because they’re really important too.”
Student teacher Allison Cotterell called it a highly beneficial tool to help teenagers learn and develop a comprehension of what life was like in the past and understand the struggles indigenous people faced eking out a living in a way that will stick with them.
“It’s better off to have them learning hands on than sitting in a classroom reading about it,” she said.
Associate professor Lisa Korteweg organized the day-long activities, said indigenous knowledge in modern classroom serves many purposed.
First and foremost it makes Aboriginal students feel more at home.
“You’re validating it. You’re saying it’s authentic, it’s real, it has a place,” Korteweg said. “And that means a lot for Aboriginal students and the Aboriginal community. It also gives all of us a greater sense of our cultural heritage as people living in Thunder Bay.”
But it’s not only the students who are learning. Hopeful teachers also get plenty of benefit from the exercise, she added.
With a growing Aboriginal population in Thunder Bay, more and more First Nations youth are attending local elementary and secondary schools.
Ultimately it means curriculums will have to adapt – and teachers must change too.
“By coming out to Fort William Historical Park they get to see those technologies in action here on the land in its natural setting,” she said.
“And,” Korteweg added, “my student teachers get to work with real students, instead of just talking about what might happen with Aboriginal students. They get to work with them.”
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