Local Kindergarten Teachers Bring Indigenous People Curriculum to Life

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Photo Karen Graham. Millbrook Kindergarten students listen to Chief Carr and Karrie MacMurray from Hiawatha First Nations explain some of their traditions.

The spirit of Truth and Reconciliation is taking root in our schools.

After a few weeks of discussions around First Nations, Millbrook South Cavan Kindergarten teachers Tracy Parker and Andrea Read brought their curriculum to life at the end of November.  After fielding questions in this study unit, the educators invited several Indigenous leaders to the classroom to answer students’ questions directly.   Chief Laurie Carr and Karrie MacMurray from Hiawatha First Nations came to the JK/SK class to share some information with these eager students.  They did not have to travel far: Hiawatha First Nation is located on the north shore of Rice Lake east of the Otonabee River.

Using visual displays, the leaders described the importance of mother earth, as students sat on the floor in a Sacred Circle.  They described the importance of various animals in their philosophy.   An eagle feather was passed to the children, who learned that the eagle is known as the master of the sky selected by the Creator, acting as a messenger to his people.  Eagle feathers are sacred to Indigenous people, and if they are broken, they must receive a proper burial.   They are also used in talking circles, where the person holding the Eagle Feather is the only person allowed speak, passing it to the next speaker, reflecting respect.

With samples that students could see, smell and touch, the leaders discussed the First Nation’s four key medicinal plants; tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar.  Students learned that tobacco is one of the most sacred of plants for Native people and helps them communicate with the spirit world. It is the first offering in every ceremony.

A sample of sweet grass was the next item passed around the student circle.  Its sweet aroma is said to remind people of the gentleness, love and kindness, and is traditionally braided into three strands representing these virtues.  It is used for smudging and purification of the spirit and has a calming effect on the user.

Sage was the third plant passed around, and it is appreciated for its healing properties.  It is boiled and consumed as a tea, which is believed to calm the mind and to remove negative energy.  The final plant introduced was cedar, which is used to purify the home. Cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting for protection.  Teachers were left with tobacco samples for each child to burn in a ceremony later that day to accompany their prayers.

At the presentation’s conclusion, students learned four aboriginal words of greeting, and heard that there is no word that means goodbye, only one that means “See you later”.   The presentation resulted in a new level of respect among all of the participants, including the presenters who saw first- hand the challenges of holding the attention of curious and energetic four and five-year-olds. KG

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