Ponoka elementary School students hear stories Sept. 28 in a teepee and get some valuable cultural exposure as part of a day to recognize Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters. Photo submitted

PES staff and students in Ponoka increase First Nations cultural understanding

Staff and students honour Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters

Students and teachers at Ponoka Elementary School (PES) gained first-hand learning of First Nations culture.

Starting on Sept. 28, both staff and students honoured Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters, by wearing an orange shirt and learning about some of the aspects that make up the First Nations culture.

The next day was professional development where teachers and administration further increased their cultural understanding by taking in a medicine walk and traditional sweat.

Principal Tim Bowman said that Orange Shirt Day was about making a visual statement of commitment to the movement.

“The event draws its roots from a student in 1973 who attended a residential school and had her orange shirt taken from her. It left a lasting impression on her — she felt unimportant and unwanted,” explained Bowman of his experience.

“Our endeavour is to ensure all of our students feel cared for and placed in a position to succeed.”

He added that it is recognized that First Nations students in the province have not graduated at the same rate of non-Indigenous students. He hopes to see that change.

“We are very proud of the work that is happening in Wolf Creek to ensure all students are experiencing high success in school,” said Bowman.

Leading the two days was Elder Joseph Deschamps who brought staff to Louis Bull for a walk through the area on the Friday. Deschamps highlighted natural medicines to teachers and staff.

“He has a rich understanding of the native plants and which could be used to help heal cuts, headaches, and other ailments,” explained Bowman.

From there, nine staff members, including Bowman and assistant principal Rolanda Eadie, took part in a sweat ceremony. This is considered a special time where no cameras are allowed.

“At the end of the day, we shared tea and bannock,” said Bowman.

The goal was to be culturally appropriate by recognizing similar customs.

“At one point, someone commented that it would be nice to have a guidebook to help us follow the traditions of our hosts,” said Bowman.

“We then reflected that perhaps some of the families we serve find school to be unfamiliar and filled with rules and traditions they don’t understand.”

With that in mind, Bowman said the hope is to create a learning environment that creates success for all learners.

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