Over the past two years, we’ve worked with some amazing partners from First Nation communities across Canada to develop local content for their students that reflects each Nation’s language, culture, stories, and heritage.
One of these partners is Lil’wat Nation, in beautiful British Columbia. Lil’wat is a Nation with a strong connection to its language. The Nation’s name translates to “people of the land” and means the place where the valleys, rivers, and people meet. This connection is strong throughout the community and is reflected and reinforced through the language and the cultural teachings in the school.
From our first visit to the community in the Fall of 2017, we were warmly welcomed by Principal Rosa Andrew and her team at Xet̓ólacw Community School. We were gifted cedar by community Elders, and were invited to participate in activities at the school and within the community. Learning Bird’s Education Training Manager, Joelle Chemali, was quick to ask to work with Lil’wat. “It is just so beautiful in this area,” said Joelle. “The views are out of this world and the people in the community are so warm and welcoming. Every teacher I’ve met at the school was committed to their role in creating opportunities for their students and providing ways for them to connect to their history and culture.” It also does not hurt that this region has some of the best skiing in Canada. Joelle always welcomes the opportunity to extend her trips to hit the slopes.
“I was awestruck when I first arrived in community,” said Joelle. She explained that one teacher described the beauty of the land as “like living in a painting”.
During our early conversations with the teachers and administrators at the school, it was clear that there was a strong desire to create content to support the school’s newly implemented Walking the Land curriculum. This curriculum, which was introduced a few years ago, is being used to help students learn about their origins, land, and people. The school worked with school and community members to develop this custom curriculum. Through our partnership over the past two years, we’ve been able to create a number of digital resources to support the school’s in-class instruction. These resources include videos, class project assignments, handouts, podcasts, and slides that teachers can use in class as part of their units. Music produced by local artists Leroy Joe, Andreas Schuld, and Russell Wallace, as well as pictures by local artist Simon Bedford, were featured in the resources.
In addition to the Walking the Land resources, the teachers also expressed a need for more locally focused math content. The teachers wanted resources the students could understand and relate to. Many math resources they had access to used examples that were not part of their students’ frame of reference. Instead, the teachers suggested topics such as “Linear Functions Using Nature”, and “Symmetry Using Traditional Baskets”. These resources address important math concepts that the students were struggling with using examples common to their everyday lives. In the first year of the program, we focused on creating math resources for their grade 10 and 11 students, and this year we focused more on grade 8 math lessons, using data from the community’s fisheries department.
We also created science content for grade 8 and 9 that included references to their people and their traditions. One resource on cellular structure introduces students to the organelles of a eukaryotic cell and talks about the Transformers of Lil’wat tradition as a way of exploring the similarities between humans and animals. Another resource on genetic mutations investigates how the Spirit Bear of the Great Bear Rainforest got its white fur.
This year, Joelle was able to return to the community for a second visit to spend more time with the teachers. She arranged one-on-one coaching sessions where she sat down with teachers to talk about the topics they would be teaching, and worked with them to find resources on the platform that they could use to support their instruction. This time was great for us to connect with teachers at a more personal level, and get a better sense of their students and needs.
“The school is such a warm and friendly environment,” said Joelle. “The teachers care about their students and are proud of their achievements.” She went on to say that the teachers pay attention to the individual students, helping them explore their interests and tap into their ambitions. Projects are tailored to student interests, and families are involved in learning.
Of course, no visit to Lil’wat is complete without stopping by to see Lois Joseph at the Community Centre. Lois has been a great resource for us as we’ve learned more about the region, the language, and the culture. We hope to have the opportunity to work more with her and her team as our relationship in the community continues to grow.
We’ve been grateful for the opportunity to work with the amazing team at Lil’wat over the past two years, and are proud of the 80+ resources that we’ve created together for their teachers and students. We appreciate all the time the team at the school has invested in providing materials for our resources, sharing their knowledge, and providing their guidance to us.