Photo Credit: CBC News

Indigenous culture is a cornerstone of Canada’s identity. In Alberta, all students learn about the history and legacy of the Indigenous peoples to honour the commitment made to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to understand an important part of our country’s past.

Traditionally, the teachings of the Indigenous peoples are passed on through oral traditions from generation to generation. It comes in different forms. Performances such as dance and music use sounds and motions to express the depth of the stories they tell.

At Catherine Nichols Gunn School, the Indigenous stories are told through art. The elementary school brought in the Blackfoot artist, Ryan Willert, to work with the students in exploring Indigenous culture and traditional art. With the support of EducationMatters, Catherine Nichols Gunn was able to have Ryan as the artist-in-residence for the school over the course of the year.

The artist-in-residence program combines creativity and education as one. Students can express their artistic side as Ryan guides them through a visual path of understanding Indigenous culture.

The entire school worked together on piecing a new mural for display while also learning about Indigenous culture and traditions from Ryan. Every student was able to work alongside Ryan to add in their own contribution, a painted buffalo.

The buffalo is an important symbol in the Indigenous culture that the students learned about. It represents strength and bravery. The buffalo exemplifies the commitment to facing challenges head on, in school, in the community, and throughout our lives. The story of the buffalo portrays that. It is the only animal that does not run away from the storm but rather runs into the wind, rain, and snow embracing the challenges, searching for the sun on the other side.

“They run through the storm to the other side where it’s sunny,” says Kaitlyn, a student from the school.

The time with Ryan had been a great learning opportunity for the students. They learned important messages about life through the symbolism of the buffalo and the stories that were told. The students were immersed in understanding Indigenous culture and they deepened their appreciation for learning about their way of life.

“My daughter really liked it. She was learning. They got to sit in the circle with Ryan and learn about what happened and why. She still draws the buffalo. She got to know the story behind the buffalo,” says Jana, a parent of a student from the school.

The project left its mark on Catherine Nichols Gunn School. They have adopted a new logo depicting the buffalo from the mural and have changed their motto to “Be Kind, Be Strong, Be Brave” to reflect the teachings of the buffalo. The mural still stands today serving as the centerpiece of the school’s learning commons.

The next Indigenous project that EducationMatters look forward to supporting is Outdoor Play for Niitsitapi’s Preschoolers. With your support, we can provide safe and nurturing play areas for young Indigenous students at the Niitsatapi Learning Centre!