More than 1,500 Kootenay students experienced aboriginal awareness last week. Organized by School District 20’s (SD20) Aboriginal Education department, Aboriginal Awareness Week has been celebrated for the last six years.
Taking place on Selkirk College’s Mir Centre for Peace grounds, students flooded the area daily to learn about aboriginal culture.
“We try to provide as many students as possible bits on the culture,” Christine Marsh, an aboriginal education program teacher said.
She explained the program has continued to grow each year and what started as a learning activity for SD20 students has grown into a field trip for daycares and students out of the district as well.
Students rotated through stations, learning through hands-on activities, including traditional games, shield-making, fire-starting, making pitch medicine, smudging, pictographs, pine needle baskets and aninishinabe (clan system).
“We try and cover different parts of each aboriginal tribe,” Marsh said, noting students in the district belong to a variety.
Each student entered the large teepee on the grounds to make their own shield. They were able to choose one of the five Sinixt spirit animals to paint on it: frog, mountain goat, grizzly bear, snake, coyote or caribou.
“We talk to kids about why smudging was used,” Marsh said. “It’s usually used for purification and prayer.”
Each student was also able to take a smudging kit, which included tobacco, sweetgrass, cedar and sage.
Pitch medicine, which is made out of tree sap and Vaseline, can be used for cuts and scratches to help get rid of or prevent infections, as well as reduces scarring. Each student was given a small pot of the medicine to take home.
Traditional games the students learned were toe toss stick, the knee jump, kainsish and finger pull.
Pictographs, which are drawn pictures on a rock, were used to mark a hunting ground or experience, the students learned. Each participant was given the opportunity to draw their own pictographs on rocks.
To end the day, students were shown different ways to start fires by Chris Moransky, who has been practising the rituals for 30 years.
He showed them the technique for rubbing wood together, starting a fire with a bow drill and using a tinder bundle.
During his demonstration, students tried bannock (a fried bread) and juice.
Marsh said the preparation for the week starts way in advance and wouldn’t be possible without a ton of co-operation.
Demonstrators for the week included Murhi Kencayd, Kim Robertson, Chris Moransky, Laurine Oliver, Laura Paul, Taress Alexis, Angie Hart, Maggie Brown, Betty Offin and SD20 Cultural Co-ordinator Bonnie Vickers.