Project Profile

Project Title:
Embracing Native Culture in our school and community
Aboriginal Twinning Project
School Name:
School board / First Nations school jurisdiction:
New Frontiers School Board
Project Theme:
  • Connect [relationships]
  • Lead [leadership]
Grade Level:
4, 5, 6
Subject Areas:
Aboriginal Studies
Community Partners:
I want to work closely with the Aborginal Twinning Schools.

Embracing Native Culture in our school and community

Hello! My name is Melissa Ianniciello, and I am a music teacher to about 350 amazing students. At St-Willibrord, we have an aboriginal population of about 100 students. It is my third year at this school, and we have yet to do something to showcase their talents. It is important that these students be able to promote their culture( especially since it has been pushed aside for so many years).

Update (June-27-14)

The Journey to Aboriginal Cultural Day

The Idea
The idea came to me when I realized that although our school has a large Aboriginal population, our teaching strategies and content did not necessarily reflect their lived experience. I wanted to find a way to create a platform on which our Aboriginal students could share their cultural knowledge with our student and teacher population. Because our school already does activities for Black History month, I thought we could apply this same idea for our Aboriginal youth – at least for one day! When I went to QPAT I attended a workshop by Imagine Action and was inspired to apply for a grant to make my idea possible. To my surprise my application was approved (insert excited jumping here!) and I received 350$ from Imagine Action and later received 750$ from my school Community Learning Center Fund to make this day possible
Getting Started
I excitedly emailed my fellow colleagues to share this wonderful news and inquire as to whether they would like to help me in this project. Sadly, I only received one response, which of course momentarily discouraged me. However, I kept on and proceeded to send permission forms to students of Mohawk background to ask if they wanted to come and volunteer to share something about their culture. This inquiry was returned by a few very dedicated parents that had great ideas on how to make this day possible. Their enthusiasm and appreciation for the project was encouraging even though it wasn’t as widespread as I had previously hoped. Originally my idea was to have these few parents come to the school and do small presentations and move from classroom to classroom. Surprisingly, as the day drew nearer and the plans progressed, more parents and cultural leaders in the community offered to be a part of the Aboriginal Cultural Day!
This was in part due to one especially dedicated parent who phoned fellow parents from the Aboriginal community to enlist their participation. I followed up with personal phone calls in order to explain the project in more detail and ensure that they confirmed. We even had a Katy Quinn come all the way from Ottawa! Katie is part of the amazing “ Blanket Project” . This is an interactive project, in which the students all start on the blanket, which represents Canada. Slowly, they learn about the history of aboriginals in Canada-the whole truth. Topics that were covered were: residential schools, land division, government policies etc. This was done only with the older students, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Some students even asked their teachers why they had never learnt about this in history class, and this opened up great discussions.
The Day
June 11th was a very memorable day for myself and the Saint Willibrord school and community. Because we had more parents and cultural members of the community than expected come, we decided to put everyone in the gym. This way the children could walk around to the different stations which were hosted by different Aboriginal parents and community leaders- and ask questions and interact with them in a dynamic way.

Station 1: Art work:
There was different traditional art on display. Certain clothing was on display as well for example pictures of different clans, feathers and the Nations they are associated with.
Station 2: “Plant me”:
The students were able to learn about the traditional teachings and significance of Native foods such as corns, beans, and squash. They were also given seeds and instructed on how to plant them in their own garden.
Station 3: “Medicine tasting”:
Students drank Cedar tea, and one parent even brought it sage to burn, as a symbol of releasing negative energy from one’s self.
Station 4:” Basket Weaving”:
A community member brought in logs of wood and showed the students the different steps that go into basket weaving. In addition he brought a few baskets for display and to show the students the beautiful finished product to all of this work.
Station 5: “Beadwork”:
Students were shown how intricate beading is done, using very small little beads. They were taught that beadwork is very prominent part of traditional dresses and moccasins, and why this is the case.
Station 6: “Dance”:
Students were shown traditional dances. Singers from Khanawake came in order to provide live music to the dancing festivities!
Station 7: “Food Tasting”:
Traditional food was supplied such as squash, bean salad, strawberry juice, and Bannock (fried bread). This food was brought in from Mohawk parents and every student was able to taste a sample while learning a bit about why these foods. are considered traditional to Aboriginal people.
Station 8: Raffle station:
We raffled off the beading, the baskets, and a beautiful dream catcher which had been displayed in the stations in order to support the work of the artisans who had come in to share their knowledge.
The Walk
Our Aboriginal day ended with a walk for Shannon, a young girl who was killed in Attawapiskat walking to school and fighting for her right to education. All of the school walked around the yard and were encouraged to think about Shannon’s walk and what this meant to them. This concluded our day while reminding our students about the current conditions in some Canadian reserves and encouraging them to act.

Final thoughts
I am so grateful to Imagine Action and our school Community Learning Center who provided me with these grants because without them this day would not have been possible. While organizing this day I faced many obstacles and I want to sincerely thank all of my colleaugues and students for their participation and encouragement. I especially want to thank :
Anthony Spadoccino, CLC coordinator for New Frontiers
Samantha De Susa, Technician for Behavioral students
Wilma Mayer, Saint Willibrord Staff
Khanawake Cultural Center
And most importantly to my parent volunteers who so generously shared their wealth of knowledge with us, thank you thank you thank you!