Understanding one’s culture is a crucial first step on a path to understanding others.
As a bonfire blazed in the Tseshaht Longhouse near Port Alberni Wednesday, RCMP Const. Pete Batt repeated the wisdom once conveyed to him by Jason Titian.
“Pete, you can’t understand my culture until you understand your own culture,” the Nuu-chah-nulth artist told Batt, an Indigenous policing officer.
With that in mind, Batt approached School District 70 five years ago and they struck a partnership, starting the Culture Share learning series for Grade 7 students. About 60 kids from Maquinna and E.J. Dunn elementary schools filed into the longhouse Wednesday for another lesson.
“We’d been hearing about a few kids experiencing incidents of ignorance-based racism,” Batt explained. “That was leading to kids not wanting to finish school.”
The idea of Culture Share was to counter ignorance with knowledge by showing kids cultural parallels and helping them develop a cultural identity of their own, he explained.
Batt draws on his Scottish ancestry to illustrate those parallels, ranging from bread in the form of bannock to brutal colonial oppression. School District 70’s Indigenous education team alternates with lessons about Indigenous culture. Using their own personal collections, they assemble a presentation of objects representing Nuu-chah-nulth and Gaelic cultural influences.
“It works well,” said teacher Peggy Tatoosh. Bannock bread is a shared tradition that originated with Scottish sheep shearing and was introduced by early immigrants to North America, she noted.
“It was the native people who used some of their own flour and helped them make bannock.”
Dave Maher, Indigenous Education principal, gave students a refresher beforehand.
“It’s about respecting the diversity that we have,” Maher said. “It’s learning about how much we are similar rather than how we are different.”
The series is also intended to reinforce critical thinking, personal awareness and social responsibility while using history as a reference point.
Tatoosh stood before Strength From Within, the monument that stands where Alberni’s residential school once stood, and recounted the all-too-recent history of institutionalized racism in Canada.
“These are heavy words,” she told students. “These aren’t to make you feel bad. This is to help you in the future, so that you can understand each other.”