School Name: Stoney Creek Community School
School District: SD#41 Burnaby
Inquiry Team Members: Stephanie Good: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Hartman: email@example.com
Taryn Briscoe: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ditta Cross: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was on exploring identity, strengthening community connections, and increasing knowledge of local Coast Salish First Nations’ tradition and culture through story and a house post project with an Indigenous artist from the Squamish Nation.
Scanning: Our team’s scanning process identified the need to strengthen student relationships within the school and relationships within our broader school community, as our school population is diverse and there is some transience. We wanted to focus on a project that would allow for the input of students, staff, parents, and community partners to collectively develop ideas surrounding our school identity.
Additionally, we wanted the focus of our project to help develop our identity in a more concrete way. With a forest, trail system, and a salmon-bearing creek adjacent to our school grounds, nature and the environment are important foci of our school and community activities. As such, we wanted to look at how this connection to place could be reflected as part of our school’s identity.
Teachers also indicated that they were eager to increase their knowledge of Indigenous traditions and practices. The First Peoples Principles of Learning that learning is embedded in memory, history, and story and learning requires exploration of one’s identity, informed and shaped our inquiry focus as they connect our goals for learning. Our project would consist of images which school community members would be able to share stories of and what they represent about our environment and our school.
The opportunity to have a story space in our library in which children use materials (loose parts) to orally share stories as a precursor to writing, led us to wonder how storytelling can give agency to student voice, can foster the development of literacy skills, and can connect people.
Focus: Our focus was to strengthen relationships through the exploration of identity, to embed Indigenous learning into classroom practice, and to develop literacy skills. This led us to look at connecting story, art, and community through a house post project. We hoped to deepen our students’ sense of belonging and ownerships by providing numerous opportunities to be involved in the house post’s creation. We also hoped to deepen our learners’ understanding of and respect for traditional Coast Salish knowledge and culture.
Hunch: Our inquiry team recognized that strengthening community relationships could be achieved by working together on a common project and giving voice to all stakeholder groups–students, parents, staff, community members–to include their perspective and input regarding our school identity.
As an extension of this, we believed that staff may feel more supported with a collaborative project as an approach to embedding Indigenous content into their practice. With the revised curriculum, staff wanted to learn ways to incorporate Indigenous perspectives and worldviews into their teaching, yet were wondering how to do so meaningfully and authentically.
New Professional Learning: It was invaluable to have Aaron “Splash” Nelson-Moody on site to be able to learn directly from him about the traditions and practices of the Squamish Nation, and to have him share stories of his people and his own experiences. As a Kindergarten to Grade 7 school, the opportunities to cover a variety of topics emerged as students and teachers met regularly with Splash during his time with us, including origin stories, connections to place, territorial acknowledgement, residential schools, and the First Peoples Principle that learning involves patience and time. While the carving of a house post was the main focus, it prompted more extensive, rich discussions and learning. Splash also provided two professional development sessions for staff that focused on reconciliation and how our house post project moves our community forward in reconciliation. Monthly staff meetings included discussions of the on-going project so that staff were informed of schedules and the learning intentions and opportunities around having Splash carving in our building.
Taking Action: Initially, our team held a community dinner to query what is at the heart of our school and community identity. It was attended by several staff, students, parents, district staff, and community members. We provided two additional daytime sessions to continue the process with other students and parents who were unable to attend the first session. During these sessions, Splash sketched his design based on the community input.
Students and teachers also participated in several sessions with Splash through December to February that included singing, drumming, dancing, learning about the purpose of a house post, learning about traditional Coast Salish shapes, and the giving of traditional Indigenous names. When he began carving after Spring Break, classes were given opportunities to visit Splash in our community room to learn about his techniques and how he learned to carve, and to continue the learning around the significance of house posts in Coast Salish culture. Central to these visits was a focus on the importance of story, and the responsibility that our community has moving forward to share the story of our house post with guests to our school.
As Splash progressed in his carving, he noted the importance of acknowledging the Tsleil-Waututh territory on whose territory our school district is on. With Splash’s assistance, our team had the valuable opportunity to work with members of this nation to plan and prepare for a traditional ceremony to unveil the house post. As we prepared for this event, our team kept staff informed on a nearly weekly basis through the Spring to share information about key practices that we would all bear witness to during the ceremony, including blanketing and cedar brushing.
Both Angela George and Splash wanted to involved students, parents, and staff in preparing gifts for the ceremony, as well as weaving quarter bags and headbands for ceremony workers. At an afternoon session, Angela and our District Indigenous Resource Teacher, Ditta Cross, came to our school to teach a group of 22 students to weave headbands on looms and quarterbags in traditional Coast Salish style. Three team members, including myself, met with the students weaving quarterbags for an additional six sessions to prepare and finish the bags for the ceremony.
Our incredible journey and our beautiful house post were acknowledged and celebrated with students, staff, community members, district staff, and members of the Squamish and Tsleil-Watuth Nations on National Indigenous Peoples Day with a ceremony led by Gabriel George.
Checking: In observing student interactions with Splash as he was carving and discussing the house post, they developed a sense of ownership and connection to the house post and Splash. They had many opportunities to ask him questions to deepen their own understanding about a variety of topics related to carving and Coast Salish culture. They greeted him whenever they saw him and were keenly engaged during visits with him while he carved. As discussed, every student in our school created a gift to give away at our house post ceremony which further provided a sense of ownership. The students who participated in weaving commented that they felt a sense of calm while doing so, felt “privileged” to be involved, and “loved weaving”. This is strong evidence of the impacts felt around our school.
Due to the fact that the project exceed our initial plans and expectations, we feel a sense of change deeply in our school and in ourselves personally. The incredible depth of learning that came about has enriched everyone’s school experience this year, and has lasting positive implications for our community’s relationships.
Reflections/Advice: While our primary focus was to bring our school community together and solidify our school identity through a house post carving, the bigger ideas that resulted of building relationships and bridging various groups, and reconciliation and moving forward together, are hugely impactful for all involved. As we learned during our time with Splash at our school, the house post represents the values that hold up our school community and welcomes others; it is also representative of how it is incumbent upon us to carry our learning and stories forward for years to come. In sharing our reflections as a team, with our students and families, and as a staff as a whole, this project engaged many diverse groups in varied and unforgettable ways. Everyone has a story connected to the house post, in turn, connecting us more strongly to one another.
Developing a core team was integral to our project and its success. Our project was large in its scope, so it was imperative that we had a group who was willing to collaborate and support each other and our wide school population, in an effort to see our vision come to fruition. Regular communication with staff was also extremely important to ensure they could develop their own understandings around the project and its goals, but also so that they could find entry points for their students in addition to the sessions with Splash.