School Name: Richmond School District
School District: SD#38 Richmond
Inquiry Team Members:Leanne McColl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marie Ratcliffe: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Other: Personal and social core competency
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal 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? As a driving question for this inquiry we asked, “How can an immersive day of teachings from our local First Peoples, the Musqueam people, on Musqueam land enrich the understandings of students with diverse Aboriginal ancestries, in terms of building a sense of identity, and connection to history, culture and land?”
Scanning: In terms of scanning for this inquiry, we revisited our last year’s professional inquiry during which we took a group of students with Aboriginal ancestry on a trip to the UBC Botanical Gardens, and UBC’s Department of Forestry. In that inquiry, we learned that this trip was as impactful an experience for the teachers as it was for the students. We learned that place-based learning is a great way to connect Indigenous students to their learning, to their culture, and to each other. We also learned that many of our students have very little understanding of local First Peoples.
We also scanned by asking the four questions of some of our students with Aboriginal ancestry. A few mentioned the importance of connecting to Aboriginal content, cultures and worldviews in their learning. One student addressed the importance of learning from the Musqueam, due to their nation being a local First Peoples. One student specifically referred to the importance of understanding new perspectives, and another student spoke about wanting to make a difference in terms of promoting social justice.
Focus: Because of the diversity of Indigenous backgrounds amongst our students with Aboriginal ancestry, many have never been to the Musqueam Reserve, or know much about the traditional unceded lands of the Musqueam people. We recently signed our new district Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement, of which goal #2 states, “The community of learners and educators in the Richmond School District will engage in the meaningful process of reconciliation through education by developing an understanding and respect for the histories, cultures, and worldviews of Aboriginal communities, beginning with the First Peoples of this place.” Because of this goal, we focused our inquiry on students learning from the Musqueam, on their traditional unceded territoty.
Hunch: Teachers are striving to include more local First Peoples content and perspectives in their teaching. This is becoming increasingly easier as our district builds our relationship with one of our educational partners, the Musqueam. As Richmond students are getting more opportunities to engage with teachings from the Musqueam in their classrooms, we want to ensure that this is especially true for students with Aboriginal ancestry. In order for students to develop their identities, they need to know where they come from, and have understanding of the place in which they live. Gaining a sense of place means knowing the histories, cultures and perspectives of the people who have been there since time immemorial. Through a trip to Musqueam Reserve and learning from the Musqueam, we had a hunch that students attending this trip would gain a stronger desire to know about their own ancestries, and belief systems. We also believed that incorporating the First Peoples Principles of Learning into the day would make for powerful learning experiences for the students, as well as help students to see reconciliation in action.
New Professional Learning: We learned more from Terry Point, our Musqueam knowledge keeper. We delved deeper into the MOA Musqueam Teaching Kit to see how this valuable resource can be used in our classrooms across the district.
Taking Action: We planned a half-day immersive field trip experience for students with Aboriginal ancestry on the Musqueam Reserve, called the Amazing Race Musqueam-style. During this event, teams of two were required to complete challenges to move them forward in the race. During these activities, they completed tasks that relied on Musqueam Indigenous knowledge. The first team to complete all the challenges were named champions of our Amazing Race.
On our field trip day, we arrived at the Musqueam Reserve, and brought all our students together, many of whom had never met previously. We introduced the Race with an overview, and then began with a plant identification scavenger hunt with plants indigenous to the area. Students were required to find plants that matched the photos and names on their plant identification chart, documenting their findings on an ipad or smart phone. Once their identifications were checked, they began a cedar weaving challenge. At this station, they met a Musqueam cedar weaver who taught them how to either make a cedar bracelet or a cedar rose. After both team members completed their cedar items, they moved on to the wool weaving challenge. Here, they were required to make wool bracelets on a cardboard loom. Once this was complete, they moved on to their final challenge, the bone game, or slahal. After a tense competitive match that went back and forth, we declared a winning team! Each team was able to select a prize to remember the day from the prize table, and we enjoyed some snacks together. After our memorable day, we said our goodbyes.
Checking: In order to check whether we made difference, we surveyed students before the experience and after in order to assess the difference that the experience made on their sense of their identity, and their connection to land, history and culture.
In the pre-surveys, we asked students two questions: 1) To me, being Aboriginal means…, and 2) What’s one thing that is important to be about my Aboriginal identity? There were many interesting answers to question #1 including: dancing, learning about my culture and standing up for Aboriginal rights and the land, having knowledge of the animals and their symbolism, how nature is powerful, the history and my culture and caring for the land, being part of a culture, knowing about my culture, and knowing how to live without technology. Answers to the second question included: dancing, pow wows, history, culture, and meeting others. From these responses, we felt that we were on the right track in terms of providing students with an opportunity to connect to land, history and culture.
In the post-surveys, we asked the students two questions: 1) What’s something I learned, or that I will remember from today? and 2) What do I want others to know about my Aboriginal identity? To the first question, students responded with answers such as: winning, huckleberries, a new game and indigenous plants. To the second question, students’ responses included, “I just want them to know about it.”, “That I deserve respect.”, “That I have Aboriginal ancestry.”, “My spirit animal is a wolf.”, “The bone game and how we lived way back when there was no wi-fi.”, and “Show them my culture.”
The surveys proved difficult to glean information. It is difficult to know the right questions to ask. It is particularly hard to get detailed, meaningful answers from students in a field trip setting, especially when you don’t have relationships with those students. However, reflecting on the surveys, and on my experience as a participating teacher, I can say with certainty that we and the students enjoyed our day on the land. It was an exciting moment when we first found ripe salmonberries, and feasted on them. Students were really excited to learn about Indigenous plants, and how to identify them. Some students did not want to leave certain stations in order to spend more time learning about cedar weaving, for example. At the end of the day, some students wanted to spend more time together, instead of returning to their schools. The day was a fun and memorable learning experience, and a great fusion of the modern day popular framework of The Amazing Race and Indigenous culture. After tweeting out about our day, representatives from other school districts congratulated us on our efforts, and more importantly, wanted to know more about what we’d done.
I am not sure that we were successful in terms of our driving question. However, through our inquiry, I did gain a concrete example of how to authentically and respectfully weave Indigenous content, worldviews and perspectives into teaching, which is something that I am always encouraging other teachers to do. In this inquiry, I feel that we embraced that First Peoples Principles of Learning; we took a risk, and tried something new; we brought students together in community; we provided a cultural learning opportunity; we honoured Indigenous knowledge, by learning from knowledge keepers; we learned from the land.
We also asked the members of our Aboriginal Success Team who planned the trip, and who participated in the trip alongside the students, to reflect upon the experience and provide their thoughts about what they learned.
From Sonja Bone (Aboriginal Success Teacher): The field trip allowed students to meet peers with Aboriginal ancestry from other schools across Richmond. They were purposely partnered with a student from another school so they would have a chance to meet and work together with someone they hadn’t met before. This worked well and students were engaged in the process, while communicating and problem solving with their partner. Students had a chance to chat and relate, not only during the field trip activities, but also in the car rides to and from the event and during our lunch break. Students were at ease in the setting at Musqueam, and comfortable developing new relationships in this “ice-breaker” style. We matched the students invited from elementary schools in the same catchment as the secondary school students who were invited in the hopes that they would have a friendly face once they transition to secondary. Throughout the field trip, students were able to participate in several cultural activities. This sparked interest in some specific areas that can be taken back to the school classroom and be a focus for future projects with their success teacher. For example, at the cedar weaving station, one student exclaimed, “This is so cool, can we do this the next time you visit?” Working with a cedar artist was a special experience that allowed students to appreciate the skill that goes into this cultural practice. Building on this learning and the connections made during the trip can now be a focus in working with students with Indigenous ancestry at school. For example, spending more time researching and practicing wool weaving in the future, now that some students have done this in a fun and hands-on way. The Indigenous plant scavenger hunt is something that students could take back to their unique school setting/classroom and try again or modify in a new way (e.g. perhaps comparing invasive and Indigenous plants in the school yard, creating nature-folios /plant journals, class plant walk, and so on…) Through this experience, students had the opportunity to learn and appreciate more about the traditional territory they live on. Some students made connections to teachings and cultural activities they’ve participated in with their own families (e.g. berry picking and weaving). One student also realize the Musqueam location is where she has her soccer practices and did not realize she was attending soccer on reserve before the field trip.
From Terry Point (Aboriginal Success Worker): I feel that the trip was a success, especially as we were a very diverse group of students doing a number of different activities. I feel they have all taken something away from the trip, even if they could not express it in written form. I think it is important for our students to get out and see the local First Nation first-hand and learn some of the games and tools that the Musqueam people used and played. Also, I found it really interesting that a lot of the students did not know their local plants. I feel that this is a reflection of the landscaping that takes place around their school. I wish we could do more trips like this to give our students a better understanding of nature and First Nations worldviews.
Reflections/Advice: We feel that our inquiry continues to support the work that we are attempting to do in our Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement. We feel that we have more to learn, as we always feel that we can do more in this area. Moving forward, we will continue to work towards providing new learning opportunities for Indigenous students, which we see can not only develop our own teaching practice, but also can inform the work of others.