By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY – Traditional drum songs and the planting of four traditional medicines highlighted the June 23 grand opening of the Indigenous Learning Space at St. Jude School in Thunder Bay.
“I’ve taught half my life here, over two decades, and it’s just nice and affirming to see this open air garden space that is going to be used to enhance instruction,” says James Angus, First Nation, Metis and Inuit student support teacher at the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and Fort William citizen. “It’s just beautiful today — the wind is blowing, the sun is up. It’s a really nice day and the (drum) songs reflected what we were doing here today in the garden, starting with calling in the four directions, expecting an answer, and that answer is going to be the bounty of the garden as well as a blessing for all who come through her doors in the future generations.”
Angus says the Indigenous Learning Space used to be a Junior Kindergarten-Senior Kindergarten play area when he was a teacher at St. Jude School.
“Environmental structuring is really important in schooling right now in relation to self-regulation,” Angus says. “Having a wide open space (for the students) to learn in I think is helpful to not only maintaining attention, but to keep their mind on their studies.”
Angus says he now works with students in need throughout the school board.
“I help students with their motivation,” Angus says. “I help them in any way that I can, answering their questions, going for walks, working on the academics. I’m wide open to any student that needs assistance in any of our feeder schools. Sometimes it is one-on-one instruction, sometimes it is whole group instructions, other times it is cultural, sometimes it is academics.”
A group of Grade 6 students planted the four traditional medicines — cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco — in a Four Directions/Medicine Wheel garden in the centre of the Indigenous Learning Space during the grand opening.
“The sage was harvested from Mt. McKay and transplanted here,” says Elliott Doxtater-Wynn, a Six Nations artist who helped develop the Indigenous Learning Space as part of the original planning committee for inclusive Indigenous knowledge education at the school. “The sweetgrass was brought from Six Nations and that is where my original home territory is. The semma or the tobacco was grown by the students and the faculty here at the school and the cedar tree was actually a donation from my family.”
The Indigenous Learning Space project also included the efforts of Hazel Baxter, one of Thunder Bay’s master gardeners, and Dorothy Krasauskas, Native language teacher at St. Jude School.
“I feel so happy seeing something like this,” Doxtater-Wynn says. “I was so overwhelmed with seeing the sharing of this kind of knowledge, the sharing of the medicines and having both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people coming together for such a positive (event).”
The Indigenous Learning Space also includes nine planter boxes for vegetables and a sharing circle area.
“We wanted it to be more than a garden,” says St. Jude School principal Cynthia Gordon. “We wanted it to be a learning space for our students and a way for us to incorporate Aboriginal culture so that kids can come out here and explore.”
Gordon says the Grade 6 students also helped Baxter to plant the vegetables, the Grade 2 students planted all of the vegetable and tobacco seeds and nurtured them in their classrooms and the Kindergarten students helped plant the tulip bulbs last fall.