Jennie Emery students celebrate FNMI culture

 page image
Posted on:

School News

Jennie Emery student Kira Vaile in full traditional dress.

Don’t tell those gathered at Jennie Emery Elementary School (JEES) one recent, winter morning that sharing doesn’t come as second nature for many young children.

A group of students from the Blood Reserve shared a taste of First Nations culture with staff and students at the Palliser school in Coaldale, who in turn welcomed the opportunity for some hands-on learning with open arms.

More than a dozen students from Aahsaopi Elementary School in Laverne provided a demonstration of traditional First Nations dancing for their hosts before each reached out to bring a host student forward to give it a try. They were accompanied by an adult drum group, Little Rock, which provided a steady beat for dances including the traditional, jingle, fancy and chicken variety.

The first-time Cultural Celebration came out of a realization that not all of the First Nations Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students at Jennie Emery are exposed to their culture at home. Although curriculum in every grade includes limited FNMI components, Erin Peterson says they were hoping to create greater awareness.

“I want Jennie Emery School to be a place where they can celebrate their culture and we can all be aware there are these different cultures and traditions to celebrate,” says the learning support teacher. “We need to be open to and exposed to the diversity and difference that every culture brings.”

That is all part and parcel of the school’s efforts to provide a safe and caring learning environment for every student, she adds.

Conversations began with Faye Heavy Shields, who helps run an Aboriginal Cultural Competency Program through Southwest Alberta Child and Family Services and the Kainaiwa Children’s Services Corporation. The original idea was to have her come in and tell some traditional First Nations stories.

“She said ‘I can do one better.’ We can bring in dancers, we can bring in drummers, and we could make it for the whole school rather than just the FNMI students,” recalls Peterson, adding the Laverne contingent not only included the dancers and drummers, but parents, grandparents and sibling.

“It was really a wonderful experience!” she says.

After the dance demonstration everyone joined in for an intertribal dance, with the Blood Reserve students not only inviting their JEES counterparts to join them, but letting them try on some of their traditional regalia. The Cultural Celebration ended with everyone joining hands for a circle dance.

The prospect of making the assembly into an engaging and interactive exercise was even more exciting, she says, as those students in Grades 1-4 get so much more out of it when they are more than passive observers.

There are already plans to expand the event into a full, cultural fair next spring with the possibility of showcasing entertainment, food and crafts from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, says Peterson. The gathering may be just the beginning of a relationship between the two schools, with talk of the students becoming pen pals and further invitations to get together.