Connecting through stories
After hearing her Elders share their knowledge about their cultural traditions, a Bow Valley College learner phoned her grandfather in Manitoba. She asked him to tell her about her Ojibway background. She didn’t know anything about her heritage beforehand. Her grandfather was so proud to tell her about it.
That learner is in the Aboriginal Upgrading program at the College, and had just heard her Elders share their knowledge about their cultural traditions. Every other Wednesday learners from that program gather at the Iniikokaan Centre to hear from their Elders and Knowledge Keepers at Elders in the Classroom.
Since Fall 2016, these Indigenous community members have shared their knowledge about values based in Indigenous cultural traditions. The series was launched after the Truth and Reconciliation Act Commission published its 94 calls to action urging the government to change its policies and programs to move forward with reconciliation. One call to action was to draft new Aboriginal education legislation that would include culturally appropriate curricula.
The College’s response was to put together an advisory circle through the Centre for Excellence in Foundational Learning’s Literacy and Essential Skills area. The group of scholars, elders, alumni, and community members recommended the College start Elders in the Classroom. Bow Valley College is currently the only post-secondary institution in Calgary offering an Elders in the Classroom series.
The teachings of Elders in the Classroom take place, as the name suggests, in the classroom, but on the land as well. In a session on the land, the learners went to the Elbow River. They sat in a circle as Elder Wolfleg Sr. explained the meaning of water, and guided them in making a prayer bundle. All learners who participated made an offering along the river with their bundle.
This past Winter term, the series’ focus was the Seven Sacred Teachings: Courage, Respect, Love, Honesty, Humility, Wisdom, and Truth. Clarence Wolfleg Sr., one of the College’s Elders, taught the first session, Respect.
This Fall term, the focus is on learning about the land. Land-based pedagogy is one of the most important initiatives that Aboriginal people are trying to reinstate in their youth. When their parents were taken out of their homes and sent to residential schools, that connection to the land was lost. The Aboriginal Upgrading program has received a grant from Calgary Learns for this focus. One of its first initiatives is to visit Blackfoot Crossing where the federal government and First Nations of the region signed Treaty 7 in 1877.
Like the learner who called her grandfather, many learners in the program are very grateful for the Elders and Knowledge Keepers who are sharing their cultural values with them. Many of them have not had these teachings in their lives before, and are learning about their history and traditions for the first time.
Iniikokaan Centre’s Cultural Resource Elders are supported by Imperial.