Today, Katzie First Nation elder Eileen Pierre is teaching a hands-on lesson in Coast Salish weaving at Fairview Elementary.
Sitting at their looms, the class of Grade 5/6 students listen intently to Pierre as they learn how to turn wool into personal pieces of art.
“My favourite part about this project is the connections between the students and the elders,” explains Michelle Chenier Chabot, Aboriginal Support Worker at Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District No. 42.
“Elders sharing their knowledge, stories and culture with the students is incredibly valuable. The experiential learning that takes place in the classroom relates directly to the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning,” adds Chabot, who is helping out inside the classroom.
Paula Howarth of the SD42 Aboriginal Education Department first approached Fairview teacher Sasha Passaglia about doing the weaving project with her students.
“She knows that I am passionate about incorporating traditional Aboriginal teachings within my classroom. I, of course, said ‘Yes,’ and the next thing I knew, we were going to build our looms in the classroom,” says Passaglia.
To do that, Passaglia asked her brother-in-law, a carpenter, to cut 100 pieces of wood to make the looms, and she and her husband pre-drilled 200 holes so that the students would have an easier time assembling the structures during their Applied Design, Skills and Technology (ADST) block.
As the students used the looms to create their art projects, Pierre shared her own story and culture with the class.
“I think that there are many lessons to be learned from this experience, including patience, expression of self, and appreciation of the cultural contexts attached to this project,” says Passaglia.
“However, I believe the most valuable lesson is the tradition she taught us, which is that the first piece you create is to be given away to someone who you respect. I think that providing the opportunity for our students to see the importance of this tradition of giving, especially with something they have made for the first time, is priceless.”
After the students gift their art pieces to someone, they will then be writing about the whole process and how they felt throughout, Passaglia added.
The looms will be staying at Fairview, and Passaglia says they plan to create a sizeable collaborative weaving piece with multiple classrooms in the new year.
“I would like to thank again elder Eileen Pierre and her granddaughters for taking the time to share their stories and teachings to our students. It was an honour to learn and create together.”