2020
Habitat Heroes

Cultural Journeys

Stawamus Elementary
  • Kindergarten
  • Grade 1
  • Grade 2
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 6
Photo Essay (3–10 images)

Community Coach(es): 

Squamish Nation Elders, the Squamish Rivershed Water Society, Fisheries and Ocean Canada, and the Cheakamus Centre Hatchery

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Aya7ayulh Chet (Cultural Journeys) is a Kindergarten to Grade 6 Program of Choice in which students learn about the connected relationship of Language, Land and Culture. Focusing on reconciliation, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students participate in Skwxwú7mesh culture and practices in conjunction with weekly outdoor activities and field studies that emphasize protecting and respecting nature. In our ongoing focus on the intertwined themes of environmental stewardship and Indigenous ways of knowing, our students have come to understand their own connection to and impact on the land. As they have studied, visited, and played at local rivers, lakes, streams, an estuary and an ocean fjord, students at Cultural Journeys have been motivated to become Habitat Heroes and contribute to efforts to rehabilitate local aquatic ecosystems.

During our watershed study, students made collages of local waterways and reclaimed their traditional Indigenous names. We studied the natural life cycle of the many animals that are integral to the traditional ecosystems in Squamish and created dioramas that demonstrate the interactions between biotic and abiotic elements and the dynamics of local food chains. We got to see these principles in action through numerous visits to local creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceanic areas, including a trip to the Brackendale dike to observe the eagles and other animals with representatives from the Eagle Watch Interpretive Program. This engagement with local waterways sparked discussion of the roles and impacts of humans in aquatic ecosystems. After learning about industrial pollution that had contaminated local waterways, students were motivated to participate in several interconnected projects contributing to cultural and environmental revitalization.

Students were excited to contribute to the provincial Salmon Recovery Plan. We raised salmon in our classrooms and studied their life cycles and roles in the local food chain. Joining the efforts of Squamish Nation Elders, the Squamish Rivershed Water Society, Fisheries and Ocean Canada, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and the Cheakamus Centre’s Hatchery Program, we have helped to restore extinct spawning channels by releasing 200,00 salmon chum fry into local tributaries and channels (see a video here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=330780837593747).

We also examined the evolution of fishing techniques and technologies employed by the Squamish Nation and how this interacts with the local food system. Visiting a local river, students learned about First Nations’s fishing methods. After catching a number of salmon, we dissected some to study their body parts. Emphasizing waste reduction, we also learned how to prepare, smoke, preserve, and cook them as well as how to tan salmon skins in order to make pouches.

Additionally, Cultural Journeys students have learned about the life cycle of herring and their importance in the local ecosystem. We celebrated the recent successes of cleanup efforts that have led to the return of certain species of aquatic life to the Howe Sound and students loved receiving letters from “Harriet the Herring” detailing her adventures as she voyages throughout the Salish Sea to Howe Sound. Drawing on Skwxwu7mesh traditional ecological knowledge, our school had the amazing opportunity last year to participate in the first harvest of herring roe in over 100 years in the Howe Sound that employed techniques which had been previously lost from the Squamish Nation community. This revived knowledge involved making herring racks by tying branches of hemlock and cedar to rocks to mimic seagrass and kelp beds, so as to effectively attract herring to lay their eggs. We repeated this project again this year and students will enjoy experimenting with new recipes using herring roe and sharing them with Squamish Nation Elders.

In addition to teaching specific Squamish Nation practice, language, and culture, these projects are helping our students gain a broader perspective that emphasizes acting as lifelong environmental stewards. We show our respect for and connection to nature through song and dance and express our gratitude for its bounties by leaving an offering and gift whenever we harvest or catch. This ethos was captured by a mural that resulted from reflection and discussions on the things in nature with which students feel most connected, entitled “When humans and animals still spoke to one another.” Students love participating in traditional stories, song, and dances about our local Squamish habitat and animals and sharing them with their peers and the wider community through performances at our biannual Potlatch as well as special assemblies held at neighbouring schools on Aboriginal Day and Orange Shirt Day. Through participation in these projects, which will be repeated and expanded upon in upcoming years, our students are learning to envision and implement a more sustainable future centred around respecting, protecting, and revitalizing local ecosystems and habitats.

Elementary School Winner
Water Management Prize