Students from Eden Valley’s Chief Jacob Bearspaw Memorial School have rarely had opportunities to interact with students from Okotoks. But they recently partnered with students from Westmount School to test the water quality of the Highwood River – a collaboration that yielded positive scientific results and improved cultural understanding.
“We’ve been working with the initiative in Alberta that promotes collaboration between schools, especially off the reserve,” said Bill Shade, principal of Chief Jacob Bearspaw School. “I think it’s great to show people what its all about here.”
Students from both schools had opportunities to share aspects of their culture with one another.
Westmount School held a cultural fair where students were able to present their personal history. Chief Jacob Bearspaw School hosted a powwow on their school field on June 6 to celebrate Aboriginal Day, which is coming up on June 21.
“Some of them – they’ve got moves,” said Miguel Labell, Chief Jacob Bearspaw School student. “Hopefully I’ll learn from them.”
The powwow featured demonstrations along with opportunities for everyone to participate. Students and teachers came together for several dances as if to celebrate the collaboration.
“These type of projects will certainly help the relations between the two communities, because when you get to know someone, a lot of predetermined images and perceptions can be proven wrong,” said Shade.
Westmount teacher Jamie Anderson described this process of questioning one’s assumptions as “unlearning”, a regular occurrence over the course of the collaboration because of the cultural significance of everything they did.
Even the river tested held this significance.
“These kids [Chief Jacob Bearspaw students] swim there [Highwood River] they play there, they fish there, and eat the fish that comes out of it,” said Chief Jacob Bearspaw teacher Kelilah Hughes. “The health of the river is important to the community.”
Westmount student Holly Saunders said that learning about someone else’s culture from their point of view made a drastic difference in her understanding.
“Instead of taking notes at my desk, I get to go and experience learning,” she said. “It’s these kinds of things that shape who you are.”
Eden Valley Coun. Rex Daniels said sharing the culture has been a challenge in the past, but is improving.
“The attitude now of the younger generation is that they’re willing to share their culture with anybody,” he said. “I like that attitude.”