Montana First Nation Elder Lawrence shows students at St. Augustine a chart that illustrates the phonetic Cree alphabet then went onto briefly explain how some sounds translate into words in English. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Ponoka school helping to continue cultural traditions

St. Augustine ensuring First Nations storytelling spans the next generation

Educating young people isn’t always about the three R’s, but is about discovering different experiences and soaking up the past.

That’s truly the aim during the month of January at St. Augustine School with its Tipi Talks program.

Tara Newton, a counsellor and program coordinator at the school, explained the idea was spawned to bring in various First Nation elders to highlight a winter cultural tradition — storytelling.

“It’s also about introducing many of the students to the protocols surrounding ceremonies and how to honour the elders as well as making sure they know the need to respect that protocol and process.”

Getting students, especially younger ones, to just sit and listen without interruption can be a challenge. But Newton noted it’s all part of how the students are able to soak in the information.

“The feedback we have been getting is phenomenal. The part the students seem to enjoy the most are the traditional games that have been showcased,” she said.

January was selected since winter was when storytelling and games were traditionally done, usually by the women, because the men were out hunting and it was so cold outside that there was a need to create things to get through the season.

Newton added there are a couple of greater benefits being seen because of the project, a renewed sense of pride in the Aboriginal culture, plus more respect and acceptance of different cultures at the school.

“We have a First Nations group of junior and senior high students — the Circle of Courage — where we have seen an increased sense of self awareness and pride in their culture,” she said.

“It’s also more than that. It’s helping all students learn to respect different cultures and that they can learn from them. It’s been good for all of our students — celebrating and accepting each other as people.”

While the focus of the project has been on First Nations, Newton explained it can be applied to any culture.

“Passing on traditions, history has become a lost art. It’s important to have those conversations with our seniors and elders, to soak in their wisdom and be able to learn from the past. It’s that storytelling and history that helps shape us and gain experiences that the future can then pass onto other generations,” she said.


Tipi Talks: Montana First Nation Elder Lawrence, in one of the Tipi Talk sessions held this month at St. Augustine, speaks to Grade 6 students Jan. 18 about storytelling and what it means to maintaining the culture and history of the First Nations people. Please see our story on page 11. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

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