Every year, the Calgary Board of Education holds a system-wide Pow Wow celebrating First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students. When Theresa McDonnell, an Aboriginal Learning Leader, noticed many of her students were missing from the celebration, she discovered they were unable to attend because they did not have the traditional moccasins needed to participate. For Theresa, this presented an opportunity to provide an authentic learning experience for Indigenous students that also enabled deeper engagement with their community. With support from an EducationMatters grant, Theresa was inspired to create Maskisinihêkwin, a project for Aboriginal students at Louis Riel School to create their own moccasins.
Three times a week, students gather to learn from community members as they sew traditional Tsuu T’ina moccasins in anticipation of the next Pow Wow. For these students, it’s about the process rather than the end product; they have the space to learn, celebrate their cultural heritage, and personalize their learning. Theresa and her colleagues have noticed the positive impact these sessions have had on their students.
This project encourages a sense of community and learning as elders pass on their knowledge to their students. Theresa notes, “…for so many [years] we did traditional instruction and learning inter-generationally and communally…opportunities, like this, for students to learn in the way that has been done in their families for so long is really important.” She is a mother of four and often finds it difficult to share her cultural knowledge with her children, having grown up in an urban setting. Projects such as Maskisinihêkwin help to connect students with their heritage in a simple, yet meaningful way, and provides opportunities to form stronger connections with their peers, community, and own sense of self. We can’t wait to see the new moccasins in action at the next Pow Wow!