For Strathmore Grade 5/6 and High School Fine Arts teachers, the opportunity to create a First Nations mural at Ecole Brentwood Elementary School was a process of intentional collaboration with one another, Siksika Elder Darrell Breaker, and their students.
Another key component of the project for the teachers was ensuring that student voice and engagement were central. Grade 5 & 6 students from Brentwood School and Art 30 students from Strathmore high school were successful in meeting their respective Fine Arts curricular outcomes, while also gaining a deeper understanding Blackfoot culture in the project that allowed students to demonstrate their learning in an authentic and respectful way.
Community, Collaboration, and Cultural Guidance:
The teachers noted that respecting the students’ voices and Elder’s input was central to the planning process. They both spoke of the intentional learning they did around the Grandfather’s teachings so that the students and themselves were familiar and comfortable with First Nation’s values, such as respect, love, truth, and humility.
Brandy (High School Arts teacher) and Kyle (Grade 5/6 teacher) appreciated the guidance and networking they received from Siksika Liaison Meagan Big Snake. She connected the teachers with both Darrell Breaker and the Pretty Young Man Family. They found Elder Darrell’s participation throughout the mural process to be invaluable. Both teachers commented on the importance and honor of having Rufus & Yvonne & Jarrett & Samathan Pretty Young Man as well as Robert and Darrell Breaker’s families share their family tipi designs with the students for the mural. The teachers saw this act of sharing as one of the most meaningful moments in the mural process.
Elder Darell Breaker and his brother Robert Breaker did a blessing of the mural, with students and staff from Brentwood and SHS schools present, and the teachers and students were honored to receive his blessing, as a sign of approval.
The process of meaningfully collaborating and seeking cultural guidance from Elders was paramount in ensuring that First Nations’ ways of knowing, history, and perspective are respected in projects like the Brentwood mural design.
The Strength of Student Engagement:
Kyle and Brandy wanted their students to feel connected and comfortable with one another, as they were of different ages, grades, and from different schools. They noted that student investment in the project was heightened due to the authenticity of their audience (the school and community surrounding it).
The time spent discussing the mural design was critically important for the high school students, as they wanted to ensure that they demonstrate an appreciation of First Nations cultural values and elements. The First Nations students at the High school saw their culture celebrated, and felt a sense of belonging and pride. The elementary students saw their school mascot, the Badger, incorporated into the mural design, and felt great pride in improving their school for the community. The elementary students were able to see the potential of what high school could offer them in their learning.
Both teachers noted that watching the high school students coach the elementary students was a highlight of the project. The teachers also noted that it was not just students immediately involved in the project that participated, a number of other elementary students would often stop and visit during recess, and parents, who were waiting to pick up their children would ask the teachers and high school students questions about the mural process.
The level of student engagement in this project was immense, and this can be attributed to the students seeing meaning and value in the work they were doing. They were invested and saw that their work could benefit the larger community and foster conversations around culture, values, and belonging. Both elementary and high school students were able to see and hear Blackfoot culture and values and were able to relate their learning to the creation of the mural.