Community Spotlight: Treaty Six Education Council
Our work with Treaty Six Education Council (TSEC) over the past three years has yielded both engaging digital resources and memorable experiences. The Council provides educational support to 12 First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, and works to create a sense of cultural pride amongst students through academic excellence. Learning Bird’s Education Account Lead Rebecca Smith, who has been working with TSEC over the past two years, has observed the Council’s commitment to helping students feel proud of their culture and identity. “The biggest priority at TSEC is to make sure students are seeing their language and their culture reflected in the materials that are being used in school,” Rebecca said. “There is a big focus on building land-based and culture-based activities and learning experiences, which is amazing to see.”
A Place to Share Knowledges and Resources
TSEC’s core values include honouring Indigenous knowledges and experiences, and preserving its Treaty, language, and cultural teachings for future generations. One way the Council has worked toward this goal is by developing land-based learning kits together with Elders and educators from its member Nations. During Rebecca’s most recent visit to TSEC last month, she noted that the kits, which are designed for specific grades around certain topic areas, not only help teachers save time, but allow them to readily access culturally-relevant resources. Instead of teachers having to source resources on their own, they are available through the Council. “TSEC acts as a repository of knowledges and experiences that teachers can tap into easily,” said Rebecca. “The Council is a place that teachers can go to for both support and physical resources.”
TSEC also hosts a variety of cultural activities that help students connect to their heritage and language, including pow wows, feasts, and festivals. Last year, students had the opportunity to share their culture with other students in Canada using technology. TSEC students in grades 3-8 participated in a culture-sharing exercise with pen pals in British Columbia. They used a webcam to connect the two classrooms and showcased pow-wow culture through singing, dancing, and drumming.
Blending Learning, Technology, and Culture
Helping students find innovative ways to connect to their culture is one of TSEC’s main priorities. In the 2017/18 school year, TSEC staff worked collaboratively with Learning Bird to create resources that bring technology, gaming, and cultural knowledge together. In one example of this, students use Minecraft, a video game that enables players to build things using a variety of blocks in a 3D world, to learn about the teachings and interpretations associated with the Medicine Wheel. They first explore the cultural significance of the Wheel and examine the elements, seasons, stages of life, and medicines that correspond to each of its quadrants. Students are also asked to consider how and why the Medicine Wheel might be interpreted differently by other cultures. Next, students are introduced to Minecraft. The game is a type of ‘sandbox’ game, an allusion to a child’s sandbox where there are few rules but many opportunities for creative play. Students are then challenged to map out and create a Medicine Wheel that reflects their own community.
Resources with Relevance
We also worked with TSEC last year to create resources that support middle school English language arts, science, and math classes. TSEC staff wanted to build videos, activity handouts, and presentations that included examples students could relate to. Some of the ELA resources ask students to practice descriptive writing skills after viewing paintings by Cree painter Allen Sapp, while the science resources help familiarize students with medicinal plants that can be found in the Boreal Forest. But staff were particularly interested in building math resources that had examples relevant to students in their communities and incorporated Indigenous ways of knowing and teaching. They worked with us closely to create resources that explain how to calculate surface area and volume of right rectangular prisms through a narrative about sled dogs.
Teachers Take to New App
Working with TSEC staff over the past couple of years has given us insight into the dedication they have for their work, and their desire to push their own boundaries. As Learning Bird launched a new version of our app this summer, we were excited to see how TSEC teachers responded to its improved functionalities. Throughout the onsite training session last month, Rebecca observed the teachers’ willingness to adapt to a new technology. “There were a couple of instances where I saw teachers helping other teachers navigate the platform,” said Rebecca. “Seeing the teachers themselves moving from the student to the teacher role within the short time-frame of our workshop was impressive.”
Culture and History Central for Treaty Six
One of the most memorable experiences Rebecca had on her trip to Treaty Six was visiting the Battle of Cut Knife Hill National Historic Site on the Poundmaker Reserve. TSEC’s IT Learning Support Coordinator Sarah Thompson took Rebecca to the site, which includes several plaques and information boards about the military conflicts that occurred between the Canadian government and the Métis and First Nations peoples on the surrounding land. Rebecca was particularly struck by the history of Chief Poundmaker and was interested to learn about the reasons for the conflict. She was very glad to have the opportunity to see his grave, pay her respects, and honour the legacy of the Chief. The visit to the site seemed to epitomize TSEC’s commitment to education, and to celebrating the history of their people—values the Council sums up well in their mission statement to “Honour the Past, Engage the Present, and Embrace the Future.”
We look forward to continuing our work this year with the entire TSEC community, and to building additional resources together to support the students. Rebecca will be headed back to visit many of the TSEC schools in a few months and she will spend some time one-on-one with teachers to help them integrate the resources we’ve created together over the past three years.