I. General Information
School Name: Fraser Lake Elementary-Secondary School
School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes
Inquiry Team Members: Kathy Chmelyk: firstname.lastname@example.org, Patti Ann Plowman: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
II. Inquiry Project Information
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Areas Addressed: Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To work with our Indigenous communities to provide learning opportunities that reflect our local culture, history, and language.
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Scanning: We used the question “Can you name 2 adults at the school who believe in you?”, at the beginning and end of our inquiry. Initially, 80% of the elementary students could name 1-2 adults. At the end of the year, all the students could name at least one adult who they knew believed in them.
We noticed that students enjoyed the culture and language learning sessions. They participated and were engaged with the adults, and looked forward to the days we had our guest come in.
We worked to make sure the learning was experiential and relevant to the learners. We also included cultural practices where applicable: learning in a circle, learning outside, learning through story (personal and from others).
Focus: In this year’s scan, we noticed that many of the questions we asked last year were still not answered: Why are we not working more closely with the local Indigenous communities attached to our school? How can we work more closely with them? Who are our allies in both of the communities? How can we build our local resources – lessons, people, etc.?
We were hoping to continue to build the relationship between the two local communities and the school, by sharing the learning we were doing at the school, participating in events put on by the communities, and by inviting the communities into the school. We continue to struggle with the impact of residential schools on our families, as we had the Lejac Residential School 5 km east of Fraser Lake, which many community members attended.
Hunch: We thought that if we had more local content, language, culture and history, we would be able to better engage our Indigenous students, as well as build understanding and empathy with their non-Indigenous classmates. We also hoped that this focus and having local knowledge holders from the communities come in to teach the children, would have a positive impact on relationships and learning.
New Professional Learning: We continued with our Aboriginal Education Leader Cohorts. Patti Ann’s cohort made good progress on the cultural competency/sensitivity course, and are hoping to have it ready to go in September. Kathy’s group continued to work on developing ways to mentor teachers in our district. Patti Ann completed the UBC MOOC course “Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education” and Kathy worked through APTN in search of local content. We worked with local knowledge keepers to develop local language, culture, and history lessons.
Taking Action: We met with the Culture and Language Coordinator and the Education Coordinator from the Nadleh Band to discuss our project, our hopes for the future, and to share some of the things we have done to incorporate more Indigenous content and history into our lessons. It took a while, but the Language and Culture Coordinator contacted us to say they had secured grant funding to bring in Elders to share language, culture, and history with our students! We worked together to come up with a plan for when they would be with each of the classes, and helped to add activities to go with the language lessons to make the lessons more interactive for the students. We had to be flexible and adaptable, as there were several traumatic events which happened within the Indigenous community, so we were not able to complete all of the lessons with all of the classes; however, there is a plan to continue in the Fall.
One of the biggest things we have learned is that it is important to just start – to make an effort to start incorporating more Indigenous content, principles of learning, language, culture and history. Do not profess to be an expert, but be a learner and a guide, and share what you have learned. Share the things you are doing with your Indigenous communities; they truly appreciate knowing that you are making strides towards change. Ask them for help and be willing to take your learning out of the school, onto the land or to their communities to build trust, comfort levels, and relationships. Most importantly, be patient, as this will take time.
Checking: We think we made a difference for the students who participated in the lessons and for the community members who were involved. Students enjoyed learning from the Elders and were engaged in the lessons. The Elders enjoyed coming into the school and are looking forward to coming back in the Fall.
As always, we had hoped to do more and do not feel like we accomplished enough. However, we were still up against Covid protocols for much of the year and there were several traumatic events which impacted our Indigenous communities, which resulted in delays. But, we started to get some Elders into the school and students were exposed to some local language, culture, and history presented by community members, which are big wins.
Our evidence: we have not had either of the communities reach out to us before to set-up learning activities; we have not had language lessons in our classes before; we have not had Elders in the school on a regular basis before.
We believe that students who had the opportunity to participate in the lessons felt a greater connection to the school, to each other and to the local Indigenous communities. The learning done around Indigenous language, culture, and history was engaging and the students want to learn more so that they have a better understanding of the truth about our history and can move forward towards reconciliation.
Reflections/Advice: We learned that this is a process which takes patience and time. Although it may not seem like we are making progress, all of our efforts over time are making a difference, slowly but surely. In the fall, the Elders will continue to come in to share language lessons with some cultural and historical ties as well. We want to continue to build an “Elders in the Classroom” program with the Indigenous communities, which will build on the language lessons we started this year. We also plan to get out onto the land more, learning about local places, plants, animals, stewardship, etc. We would also love to have more local knowledge holders come into classrooms to share more about culture/traditions and history.
Our advice is two-fold:
1) Just start and take the first step. Figure out who your allies are and reach out and ask for a meeting with them. Share the things you have been doing, what you need help with and what you would like to do. Ask what the hopes are for the Indigenous communities. What would they like to see happening in the school? Ask questions, ask for help, ask to work as partners.
2) Take baby-steps and don’t give up. This takes time and does not always move along as quickly as we would like it to. And often, even when it doesn’t seem like you aren’t making any progress, you will be happily surprised one day when it starts to come together.