Grade 4 students from Enderby’s M.V. Beattie Elementary were recently taken on an exciting journey into the Shuswap’s past courtesy of the Mary Thomas Cultural Village near Salmon Arm.
As part of the Grade 4 curriculum, the students were studying the aboriginal spring unit, explained Cory Thomas, one of the aboriginal education workers.
Gerry Thomas and his team at the village created an educational adventure that took the students on a laugh-filled tour of the Neskonlith culture, both past and present.
The groups of students were able to engage in many different activities that allowed them to see the unique Neskonlith culture for themselves.
Students eagerly called out the name of plants and trees as Gerry Thomas guided them on a tour through the forest.
He showed the students how to identify plants they should avoid, such as the stinging nettle, which can leave a painful burning sensation on the skin. Students also learned how the some of the same plants that can cause so much pain can also be used for healing or even food.
Cory Thomas and Amy Sampson told traditional stories that inspired the students to create their own.
With the aid of puppets, groups of students performed stories about greedy animals and silly hunters, each one with a life lesson.
Students watched with wide eyes as they were taught how animal skins were traditionally tanned, berries were dried and what the inside of a mud hut looked like.
Many children seemed proud to be able to add their own knowledge whenever they could.
One young boy explained why there was a notch missing from the ladder in the mud huts, while a delighted young girl shared why birch bark baskets would be made in different sizes.
Gerry enjoyed teaching the students about his culture, most of which was taught to him by his mother and grandmother.
“We often go to the schools to teach,” said Gerry, “but they can learn much more out here. We have more we can show them, and they can see things like the (mud pits) first hand.”
The smell of freshly made bannock filled the air as each student was given the chance to cook their own over a fire, making for a tasty treat half-way through the day.
The groups were also given the chance to help make a reed mat which, as they were taught, had many different uses including bedding and shelter.
Students laughed loudly as Gerry had his team finish off the day with a play about how coyote got his red eyes.
Cory Thomas was very pleased with the results explaining that events like these help “promote community pride, aboriginal pride, and school pride.”