Land based project at Wanuskewin inspires artistic expression
- NC Raine | November 15, 2021
In front of a group of students from Saskatoon’s Chief Whitecap and Wâhkôtowin schools, dancer and musician T.J. Warren shared a story at Wanuskewin Heritage Park of how culture and ceremonies shaped him as an artist, a performer and person.
These teachings and traditions are based directly on the knowledge, language, and practices of his ancestors, he said.
The students are part of a program designed to do what Warren described.
“(We are) educating the students on the history and the land, and dispelling myths in their own heads and breaking down stereotypes. Then, they get to create reflective work from it and share the own perspective on what they've learned,” said Wanuskewin community coordinator Honey Constant,
The new student-directed exploration of the history and culture of the Great Plains is a project between Wanuskewin and Saskatoon Public Schools for Grade 7 and 8 classes at Chief Whitecap and Wâhkôtowin schools. The project was conceived and funded by Wayne Brownlee of the The Brownlee Family Foundation.
“Living more than 6,000 years in this area, it's a pretty amazing story. I think the more appreciated that story is, the greater pride there is. And, for non-Indigenous people, for us to understand and appreciate that story, the story of the land, the people, we need to know and share that,” said Brownlee.
The students are learning Indigenous knowledge and science as it relates to First Nation pre-contact history by using the facilities and natural environment at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. The students will then be given free reign, said Constant, to exercise their knowledge-infused creativity.
“If you want to write a short story, a poem, if you want to write a rap, do a painting, or just draw a sketch. It's whatever you want it to be. Instead of doing a test, based on standardized testing, you assess (the students) based on what they have learned and how they share what they've learned in their own way,” she said.
With the lessons connected to the seasons, autumn is focused on bison and the bison-hunting season. The winter sessions will centre on storytelling, gathering and community. Spring will focus on regrowth.
Brownlee said he hopes more schools will get involved and showcase students' art inspired by their connection to the land and history.
Trevor Iron, a teacher at Wâhkôtowin School, said the program is already making an impact on his students.
“I can see the pride in them learning about their own history. Many students are born and raised in Saskatoon, so don’t have that connection with the land or their communities,” Iron said.
“It gets them focused and learning the true history of Saskatchewan. Lots of times you don't see it in the books, but I know coming out here, experiencing the land, hearing the stories from the presenters, it's adding more value to them. They actually see, hear, feel, smell, taste all the different things that make the land significant.”