Jacqueline Jimmie and Brenda Di Rezze work at Metis crafts during a Professional Development Day at Seabird community school.

Teachers get hands-on Metis culture lesson

Voices spill from a handful of classrooms, and into the long hallway of Seabird community school. It’s the chitter chatter of learning and teaching, and even laughing. But the sounds aren’t coming from the school’s regular student body. In fact, there’s not one student in the building. But there are teachers — elementary school teachers, high school teachers, librarians and education assistants. But today, they are students. It’s a District-wide professional day, and the focus is on First Nation culture.  In one classroom, about half a dozen teachers are learning Metis culture. Two facilitators, both with Metis roots, lead the small group through crafts, history and culture of their ancestors. For Rene Inkster, being Metis does not just mean having a connection to Canada’s rich history. It is a way of life, and she tells the group of teachers what it meant to grow up Metis. She tells her students how as a child, she always wore handmade rabbit fur gloves, turned inside out to feel the softness of the fur. “To this day, I still buy only rabbit fur gloves,” she says. She tells them some facts about the Metis, facts that even the most educated teachers may have never learned. The Metis created the first Canadian flag, instituted the first rules of government, and also created the Red River cart, a two-wheeled, hand pulled cart that carried goods behind someone while they walked. “My ancestor made the first one,” she says. While she talks about the first Metispeople, and their connection to modern Canada, the student teachers busily work on felt crafts. While many parents are familiar with Coast Salish artwork that may come home in backpacks, dramatic for their bold red, white and black designs, often featuring salmon, bears and wolves, Metis art has its own look. Bursts of  yellow, blue, red, purple, pink, green and orange are all used to create designs of flowers on felt hangings, and miniature felt gloves. “This is our culture,” says the second facilitator in the group, Beverly Lambert. The Metis culture is bright and colourful, she says. The Metis people have a history of celebrating their culture, as well as entertaining. In this one session of many held on this professional day, time seems to ran faster than usual. There are other things to be learned, and to be taught, throughout the school. There’s sessions focusing on family empowerment, employment equity for Aboriginal teachers, how to implement First Nations material across curriculum, and how to integrate First Nations medicine, to name a few. As for the teachers learning Metis art, they all express their enthusiasm at their new skills. “I’ll be taking this back to my teacher, for sure,” says EA Jacqueline Jimmie. Louis Riel Day was on February 16, celebrating one of Canada’s most well-known Metis people.