Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

4.6.5 Archery – Outdoor Education

A blended NOII /AESN collaborative inquiry project undertaken by two teachers at different schools highlights and underscores the potentiality of experiential learning in awakening and deepening students’ understanding of Aboriginal culture and history. The joint inquiry project centered on an archery unit that focused on both sport and skill and provided a stepping-stone for understanding First Nation culture through “doing.” The six goals of the project hinged on enhancing student self-esteem and participation while also providing opportunities for students to assume leadership/mentorship roles in peer tutoring both adults and other students. We were quite taken with the summary provided by one of its sponsoring teachers who suggested the inquiry was designed to “Increase student self-esteem, one arrow at a time.”

At the core of the unit is the notion of connectedness: connecting elementary and secondary students and teachers to others and connecting all to an appreciation for and practice of traditional Aboriginal practices. As a part of their inquiry process, the originating AESN members shared their project with others in the district. This resulted in connecting their high school students involved in the Outdoor Education class/Archery club with grade 5 students at the elementary school as archery coaches/peer-tutors. This particular project has important and meaningful carry over and spin-off effects: due to its popularity and success in improving student engagement and self-esteem, it will expand in the spring of 2013 to involve grade 6 and 7 students and teachers. An equally important spin-off is realized in the cross-curricular integration that is possible in small districts such as Arrow Lakes: students in shop classes are designing and building archery equipment storage boxes to maintain the integrity and longevity of the equipment. While students engaged in the archery project have come to recognize it as both a skill and a sport, students are also very aware of the historical significance of traditional Aboriginal use of bow and arrow as a means of survival. As one of the teachers involved put it:

“playing with others in competition [allowed students] to gel on a similar skill set – it translates to more than just the obvious [it leads to] the collaborative encouragement for the individual and the group. Two hundred years ago the better you got the more food you put on the table. This contributes to school culture; an understanding of First Nations culture in the past, the present and possibly the future.”

This is an important feature to highlight: while studying traditional practices may build appreciative knowledge of past cultural accomplishments, it is when the historical is linked to the current context that learning is most meaningful and helps illustrate the continued contributions of Aboriginal peoples to communities.

According to the other teacher involved in the inquiry, students in the Outdoor Education class have developed a growing appreciation of the challenges faced by Aboriginals in the past who worked with handmade tools in order to create the stuff of survival. Students are taught the art of “knapping” – chipping rocks to make arrowheads – a skill the teacher himself had to learn before teaching his students. As the teacher explained: “We give them antler and bones and use rocks and sticks so they can make an awl to sew or make an arrow…we give them a piece of buffalo hide, tanned by Aboriginal people in our community. They have to use the bone awls to make a pair of snowshoes…” This teacher goes onto credit the AESN for his involvement in integrating Aboriginal elements into his Outdoor Education course indicating that he wouldn’t likely have done so without the nudge from the Network. What was obvious from our meeting is that the initial exposure to Aboriginal ways of knowing and being, the support of and accountability to the Network, and the success in meeting the goals of the district’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement, have translated into a heightened enthusiasm amongst educators to continue pursuing increased integration of Aboriginal content and learning into daily teaching practice. As another interviewed teacher stated: “There is a pretty broad thing happening here. Moving the Aboriginal focus from unconsciously to consciously aware: awareness, appreciation, self-esteem, becoming a valued member of the community – the relationship between the teacher and students…it’s all about relationships.”