WANUSKEWIN — Seventh and eighth graders from Wâhkôhtowin and Chief Whitecap Schools celebrated the pre-contact literacy and arts project with traditional songs and dances and by listening to several stories Thursday at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
To the beat of the drum, several students performed native dances such as the fancy shawl, hoop and jingle accompanied by traditional singers, while others read the stories they had written to the crowd gathered at the amphitheater .
The Brownlee Family Foundation spearheaded the project, which hopes to promote and teach students about Northern Plains Indigenous heritage, and it was done in cooperation with Saskatoon Public Schools and Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
Wâhkôhtowin School offers a Nêhiyâwiwin Cree language and culture program, while Chief Whitecap School offers the Dakota language program, both of which teach students about the history, culture and language of the Indigenous peoples of Saskatchewan .
Wayne Brownlee said the project was developed after learning more about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples, which is different from how they were portrayed in movies and TV shows.
“Clearly the story is told about who is writing it and what happened. There’s more to know about Indigenous people, not just cowboys and Indians on shows where most haven’t happened. When I met Dr. Ernie Walker, my eyes were opened,” Brownlee said.
Walker is Emeritus Professor of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Saskatchewan. He is also a founding board member of Wanuskewin Heritage Park, where he leads the discovery of treasures from the past in the oldest archaeological dig in Canada.
“Let’s try to get rid of misconceptions and tell the stories of the Plains Cree in a factual way. Let’s go back in time, use our imaginations of what may have happened and make up stories with their perspective,” Brownlee added.
Trevor Iron, teacher of the Cree language and culture program at Wâhkôhtowin Nêhiyâwiwin School, said it was important for students to learn about the history and culture of the Plains Cree people who inhabited these lands.
“For children, just to motivate them and make them think about life before contact with European settlers. It was a great learning experience for many of them. It’s quite amazing for them to see their works exhibited in an art gallery of this stature. It’s a great way to recognize the commitment they’ve made to this project,” Iron said.
Honey Constant, visitor services coordinator at Wanuskewin Park, said they are looking to involve more seventh and eighth graders in the project with the help of SPS and its assistant director of education Brent Hills. .
“It’s the first time he’s done a full program. They tried it before, but COVID ended up canceling it halfway through. We started in October and the program ended [Thursday]. It is therefore the first year that we have completed it. [Hills] he was the one who chose the schools, but I hope that in the future we will have more classes here,” Constant said.
“This is the pilot year since we completed the whole program. We hope that as interest in the program grows, we can secure different funding that we can access so that we can continue to do this each year.
The Pre-Contact Literacy and Art Project is a student-led program that aims to change the image of some stereotypes given to Indigenous peoples and reclaim the heritage of the Northern Plains Cree people. It gives students a seasonal approach to learning. through art and literacy where they learn about the history of indigenous peoples before European contact was established.