Central Okanagan students’ art showcases new school collaboration

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Okanagan students learn about culture through art based school collaboration – Mar 15, 2021

The art of some of the students from School District 23 in the Central Okanagan is being showcased at the Kelowna Art Gallery.

It’s the result of a new school collaboration.

“It’s based on 10 Indigenous art lessons that I have written with the help of Westbank First Nation elders and cultural leaders and art teachers in our district and looked at what they wanted to share,” said James Elwood, art teacher and program developer.

Elwood says the lesson plan is the answer to many teachers asking for help to introduce Indigenous culture to their students.

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“It was two years of work putting them together,” said Elwood.

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“A lot of teachers want to (teach) Indigenous content in their classes but it wasn’t happening because they were afraid of getting it wrong, which is a legitimate concern — it needs to be done properly.”

Because of the collaboration between Elwood, West Bank First Nation, Sncewips Heritage Museum, and Pamela and Grouse Barnes, students from kindergarten to Grade 9 are being given a more diverse learning experience.

“There hasn’t been enough of this kind of teaching,” said Pamela Barnes, knowledge keeper.

“Indigenous people have been here for thousands and thousands and thousands of years so whenever we are talking about anything Canadian that should be the foundation and it hasn’t been it’s a good opportunity for people to learn some Indigenous perspective and some understanding there has not been a lot of that.”

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The lessons strive to provide a fraction of that lack of knowledge.

“I think two of the lessons that really represent what it’s about is the kindergarten lesson, which is the dreamcatcher and the N’ha-a-tik or Ogopogo,” said Elwood.

“What those lessons do is take something that is incredibly familiar and known by the public and to take that known thing and repatriate it back to its nation.”

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The exhibit at the Kelowna Art Gallery is a chance for other students, community members and other educators to learn more.

“I see artwork that I can relate to,” said Barnes.

“So often what is out there comes from a culture that I don’t see myself represented in very often. For me that’s important and I can imagine that it’s important for Indigenous students and for all that we are a very integral part of this Canadian fabric.”

The exhibit is open to the public until April 11.

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