Thanks to EducationMatters’ support, as of 2017 the artifacts housed in the Circle of Nations Museum have been relocated to the Niitsitapi Learning Centre, a Preschool to Grade 2 unique program that teaches the Alberta Program of Studies through a diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and experiences. The school is excited to continue provide outreach to other CBE schools to help educate students on Indigenous culture and begin to work towards healing through the recommendations from Truth and Reconciliation.
When the Plains Indians Cultural Survival School closed 8 years ago in 2002, Calgary lost an important Aboriginal educational resource and cultural showcase. An EducationMatters grant is ensuring that the majority of the artifacts that lost their home in the closure are once again available to be experienced by Calgary’s students.
The new home of the collection is at Kingsland Centre in Calgary’s southwest. With EducationMatters funding, a room in Kingsland Centre was renovated and repainted to become the Circle of Nations Museum. The collection includes pieces of aboriginal art, as well as special Aboriginal artifacts that were donated or purchased over the years. Experts from the Glenbow Museum offered feedback about the best way to set-up and properly display the museum’s pieces in the new space, and the end result is an exceptional cultural showcase that serves many purposes.
Prior to the official re-opening of the museum, groups of students from two Aboriginal Pride schools, Piitoayis and Valley View, came and visited the museum for a day. The students spent the day touring the museum and learning about its contents, participating in a story-telling circle, making crafts, and playing traditional outdoor games such as stick-ball. All of the students were enthusiastic, engaged, and eager to learn and partake in all of the activities. One student even donated the craft he’d made to the museum.
The story-telling session was especially meaningful to the Piitoayis students; several of these students have learning challenges and aren’t always comfortable communicating verbally – some hadn’t spoken all year. The story-telling session offered a safe, comfortable setting outside the normal academic environment for these students to open up and share their personal stories. Students were freely expressing themselves because they made personal connections to what they were learning and realized they had something to contribute. One young boy shared a story about going hunting with his grandfather. This experience allowed these students to feel engaged in the learning process in a new way that celebrated their culture and was something they could really relate to.
The Circle of Nations Museum will offer educational programs targeted at four different age groups: Division I (K-3), Division II (4-6), junior high, and senior high. Coming up this fall the focus will be on delivering these programs to elementary students in divisions I and II. Through communication with CBE Principals, the museum received many requests from schools across the city and has filled its bookings through until December. The wide-spread interest is excellent because it means that schools all across the city, not just those with high Aboriginal student populations, will have the opportunity to experience Aboriginal culture in this unique, interactive setting. For schools that are unable to travel to Kingsland Centre but would still like to participate, the Aboriginal Team has created “artifact kits”, which they will lend out for a period of time.
“There was a deep feeling of loss when the PICS School closed,” said Lori Pritchard, Specialist, Aboriginal Education. “Now, in this small way, we can fill this gap and help to promote learning about Aboriginal culture.”
The Circle of Nations Museum is a way of bringing Aboriginal culture back to Aboriginal students, as well as the Calgary community as a whole. It will provide fun and enlightening experiences for generations to come.