Gabriel Dumont Institue

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Saskatoon ABE Cultural Learning Project

By Cindy LaPlante & Desirae Barker

Apr 7, 2021

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Last month, the Dumont Technical Institute (DTI) Saskatoon Adult Basic Education (ABE) staff and faculty took on a new venture to help connect students with Métis culture.

Due to the pandemic, departmental exams for the 2020-2021 high school year were suspended. Instead of a week of standardized examinations, faculty were now provided with extra time for teaching. “Typically, at the end of the semester, students would be writing departmental exams. This would normally be a very stressful week for our students. Since the exams are not required this year, we found ourselves with an unprecedented opportunity to do something super cool with our students!” said Marilyn Black, DTI Program Coordinator.

In place of the examinations, a Métis cultural learning project was created by the Saskatoon ABE staff and faculty. The cultural learning project involved a week of virtual workshops for students. The first virtual workshop was held by Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) graduate and land-based educator Garrick Schmidt. During this workshop, the students learned about the Indigenous relationships with land, land claims, and treaty land entitlement. Garrick also explained the Indigenous understanding of medicines and ceremonies.

For the remainder of the week, students learned about the ribbon skirt movement with Tala Tootoosis. Tala taught students how to make a ribbon skirt from start to finish and included important teachings on its meaning and symbolism. Students were able to view, ask questions, and learn the basic methods of ribbon skirt creation. The project was also extended to the male students to create ribbon shirts or vests as well.

Sewing machines were brought over from the GDI Métis Culture and Heritage department for the students to begin creating their own ribbon skirts, shirts, and vests. Amy Briley provided students with a zoom tutorial on how to use the machines, and the Saskatoon ABE staff assisted students with the basic functions of the machines.

Prior to this workshop, there were classroom discussions regarding the Isabella Kulak incident in Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Isabella had worn her ribbon skirt to school during a formal day, and a staff member told her that her outfit wasn’t considered formal. This incident happened prior to the cultural learning project, and the students were anxious to show their support and pride in wearing their cultural regalia.

The vast majority of students had never sewed in their life. Therefore, the creation of their items was meaningful and personal.  Many chose their ribbon colours to honour their families, loved ones who have passed, or to signify their bond with nature. Some students commented that they would like to wear their creations at their graduation in June.

The fabric, ribbons, and all materials were smudged and prayed over before and after starting this venture which for many students was also a new learning opportunity. The material was purchased from Century Fabric and the ribbon from Twig & Squirrel. Both local stores provided a discount to DTI.

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Louis Riel, July 4, 1885. Students embodied these words after finishing their ribbon creations. In a time where there is a lot of stress and worrying present in our current lives, students left each day with a smile on their face and humble pride in what they had accomplished that day. There were many days that instructors and students alike stayed beyond 5 o’clock to keep working on their projects. The bond between teachers and students created a strong sense of community within the room each day.

The week finished on a positive note and many students commented that they will pass along the teachings they learned to their friends and family. DTI Saskatoon ABE staff and faculty are already planning more projects which will showcase Métis culture and celebration for the end of this semester in June.

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

GDI is a Saskatchewan-based educational, employment and cultural institute serving Métis across the province

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