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Luka and Sharon IsaacHub Staff

Pow Wow Boot Camp, hand drumming and fish filleting were just a few of the things going on at St. Joseph's School in Port Elgin on Thursday, November 26 as they held a History and Heritage Day to learn about First Nation and Métis history and traditions.

All students at the school, organized into several mixed age groups, had the opportunity to participate in over a dozen workshops which saw local people from the First Nation and Métis communities presenting various aspects of their culture. Each workshop lasted 30 minutes and groups would move from one workshop to another throughout the day.

A traditional lunch was also provided at mid-day, which included tacos and corn soup.

Kaylyn Kewageshig showed students a Pow Wow video and spoke about such things as the Grand Entry, the Eagle Staff and the dancers, adding that each dancer's outfit is different. “The outfits are a representation of their spirits,” said Kewageshig. She explained that all the dancers and singers come to the Pow Wow to pray and also to take part in different types of ceremonies depending on their dance style. Each dancer makes their own outfit. “What a Pow Wow is is a celebration and a ceremony at the same time. A celebration of life and a ceremony of life,” she said.

Educational Assistant, Sharon Isaac was showing students how to make leather medicine pouches. “Each kid making them then puts four medicines in and the kids get to take away with them,” she said, explaining that the four medicines are Cedar, Sage, Tobacco and Sweet Grass, which are the four major medicine plants.

Lorne Pawis was teaching about hand drums and the meaning behind everything. He explained that the drum is the heartbeat of the mother. “When you're in the mother's womb you hear the heartbeat of the mother. This represents what you hear.”

Pawis said that what the drums are made of is dependant on the geographical area but that usually the skins are of deer or moose. “In our teaching that's our life giver because he gave his life for us to eat and to keep warm, so we honour him.”

Natalka Pucan gave a presentation on wild rice and how people harvest it. She then cooked some to give students a chance to taste 'popped' rice.

Pucan said that wild rice used to grow locally but it needs a specific environment. “It needs fresh water, the water has to kind of move but not too much.” Pucan explained that it used to grow in Arran Lake and is starting to come back but said that with all the recreational use at the lake, such as boating and jet skis, cause too much disruption in the water, which then results in the uprooting of the plants.

She adds, “We're told to go to the place where food grows on water. That's what I'm trying to teach the kids with the rice.”

Pucan, who teaches at St. Joseph's, also helped to organize the event and works with the school board as an Aboriginal Education Lead. She explained that the Ministry of Education have had a First Nation, Métis, and Inuit department since 2008. “They've been really pushing First Nation education in the province,” she said.

Pucan said that this was the first time they had tried to do different workshops. “Usually we take students to the First Nation but we thought this year we'll have a day where they can participate in workshops and learn a little,” she said. “I invited people from my community to come and put the workshops on. Some are from Saugeen First Nation and some are local Métis people from the area. I'm hoping I can do something to honour the Inuit people in the winter.”

She said it's important for all students to know and understand the history of Canada. “Instead of it just being kind of one sided we want to try and introduce them to the other side; the other perspective and to help them understand First Nations people and their culture,” she said. “Trying to teach them about how we love the land, the environment, how we live off the environment; and I think if they get an appreciation as being young I think as an adult... our communities will benefit from it.”

Pucan said it's also about building relationships. “First Nations culture is about relationships so I see this as building that relationship. Also it goes with some of the... recommendations that came out of the [Truth and Reconciliation] report.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair, spent five years examining the very dark chapter in Canada's history of the residential school system and its continuing legacy, presented its findings in June of this year and put forth 94 recommendations as part of the healing, reconciliation and education process.

“This is us attempting some of that reconciliation, that's why I think it's important,” said Pucan, adding, “The kids absolutely love learning about First Nations history and heritage and it's just so fun.”

For more information on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its findings, visit www.trc.caRiceJames EthanPow WowDrum

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