June is Indigenous peoples month in Canada and we are happy to have renown indigenous artist, storyteller and carver, Simon Winadzi James join us. Simon talked about how his art connects his culture and family and that he has been an artist for over 30 years and brought an old growth cedar Raven mask that he had been working on for the kids to see.
The kids were treated with a film screening of an episode of the animated series Raven Tales called ‘The Return of Kolus’. The Kolus is a mythological large bird that Simon believes his people related to the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. After the screening there was a short discussion and kids were able to Simon questions about the story.
Inspired by the Canoe adventure in the story the kids worked on their own mini paddle craft project added their own design and further customized it with wood burning.
On this day the classes from Cook Elementary walked from the school to Garden City Park. The classes were broken into groups to familiarize, identify characteristics a number of local plants that are common local indigenous to the area. Acting like young citizen science observers, they drew their interpretations on paper. Groups , shared what they witnessed with the group. Also joining us was Indigenous Cree Cultural Harvester Mitch Tourangeau, he shared a song and the connection we all have with the land and talked about how he harvests plant medicines for his community.
The young learners were also introduced to willow, a common plant used for baskets, crafts and weaving. The kids learned to separate the bark from the plant and created a simple cordage with the bark.
Continuing with the bird knowledge the students have learned through story and craft and with the skills developed in needle felting is the creation of hanging eco sculptures. Working with additional natural foraged material to provide additional depth and shape, Yolanda led the young hands taking needle felting to another level. Yolanda explained her low impact method of harvest to express her relationship with the land.
Yolanda writes “Third workshop was a hit! The kids were so confident with the felting needles, we barely broke any this time around. They were intrigued by the materials respectfully gathered for adding to the felted hemp structures. Some students have been foraging for another project and brought those skills to the table. A beautiful sense of creation and calm seems to set in during these workshops, the meditative nature of the work takes hold.”
The students were encouraged to take nests home and install them at home or in a bird friendly location where perhaps some winged visitors may come by to visit.
In the final workshop of this phase we continued with the bird theme building on the story of how the birds got their colours by Simon James. The young hands got to work on creating their own hand crafted birds, the used sand paper, small hand tools, wood burner, clay and feathers to assemble their bird. Humans creating a winged animal is not an easy task, how does mother nature make it look so easy and beautiful, we hope that this activity raises the kids consciousness of how a bird is shaped.
As the young ones prepare for winter break, they were made aware of winter solstice and the longest day on December 21. The young students were given the opportunity to make a star or lantern as a way to be a positive light even in the darkest of winter.
Over two workshop days, Yolanda Weeks (Yo) and Jay Peachy introduced students to Yo’s artistic nesting project. Exploring what migration means to them, both in connection to the natural world and their personal flight path, each child created their own little nests. We started off by getting to know the materials, hemp fiber and wool fibers. Then, the felting needles!!! These sharp little things have ‘teeth’ that connect fibers when you poke them together. The students were extremely focused, binding their fibers together beautifully on a little mesh grid. We started off with 2D works so they could experiment and feel confident with the process before going 3D. They made little carpets, fibrous medallions and some transformed their work into necklaces.
Two weeks after the first workshop, it was time to build our nests! Following what they learned in week 1, some new guidelines and their own artistic intuition, they created all kinds of little deciduous homes. Some kids even added felted birds and eggs of all shapes and sizes to their nests! Foraged lichen, branches and horsetail were also added to the mix. Creating with natural materials and talking about our connection to the lands and waters, reminded us all to tread lightly and respectfully on the land.
In addition to the Bird and Colour storytelling by Simon James the kids ventured outside, we walked the field to seek birds nests in the surrounding trees and were challenged to stay quiet and listen for bird calls amidst the surrounding noise of the urban landscape. Each child was encouraged to pick up a stick as if they were a flying bird creating a nest, this was by intention as it ties into the future workshops later in the phase.
When we gathered back to the canoe garden we gathered the sticks, analyzed it and challenged everyone’s imagination to what the shape of the stick could look like, maybe its a mountain, a wave or even a mustache. The importance of identifying a branch, analyzing its shape helped in the next task of harvesting. A number of plants were harvested and the kids were tasked with separating a small flower, from the leaves and the roots.
Fall is also a traditional fish harvest time for many indigenous peoples, recreational and commercial fishers in acknowledgement of this time a small leather craft and sample of various fish skins was presented. Making fish leather will hopefully be a future activity.
In the first session of the Fall, Indigenous Artist, Carver and Storyteller Simon Winadzi James (Kwak wakw ‘wakw) shared with the students via zoom a Crow and Raven story told by his great grandmother. It was a time when the creator was first giving colours to birds. Crow was excited to get its colours and the Raven wanted to play some tricks on crow, because Raven thought Crow was getting a little full of itself. Simon says the story has evolved over time as society has many evolving social dialogue around colour and diversity. Simon encouraged the students to be the best no matter what skin colour you have and to be proud of who you are and where you come from. Later in this phase the student create their own wood crafted bird inspired by this story.
On Saturday September 25th our friends from Urban Bounty, Casa Meshiko Dance Society and Red Fox Healthy Living Society, joined in a small community celebration part of culture days. Kwak kwak wakw artist Simon Winadzi James led children with carving and shared a story. Urban Bounty served delicious Rosehips and Nettle tea and showcased their garden harvest, Casa Meshiko Aztec Dancers honoured the garden, Red Fox Youth leaders led nature button making on the Art Cart and musician Etienne Siew shared some is favourite music that he likes to take on canoe journies.
The Four Directions Canoe Garden installation was inspired by the diverse community at Cook Elementary and in acknowledgment of migratory human journey. Many of us have come here the lands originally inhabited by Indigenous peoples, recognized as Coast Salish Territory and the ancestral home of the Musqueam people. The four directions is an Indigenous pedagogy commonly used by many peoples. There are four stylized canoes that point in the four main compass directions. The idiom “Grow where you are Planted” is symbolized with a central garden hub that is intended for pollinators and creatures of the eco system. The tiniest animals were soon here after the ice receded to create the island of what is known today as Richmond. The river delta is a flyway for many pollinators and birds, we share the land with the animals.
The wood for the construction of the garden was provided by the City Richmond Parks Department via the Richmond Food Security Society who teach the young kids in the adjacent food garden at the school. Through the assistance of our mentor Dan we processed the wood. Pat and Sean assembled the canoe garden and installed it on site.
Spring 2022 Planting.
Inspired by the colours of the four directions, pollinator friendly native plants representing the blooming colours were placed in the Canoe Garden. North (White) – Chickweed East (Yellow) – Goldenrod South (Red) – Blanket Flower West (Blue) – Alpine Aster, Comfrey (returning)
In the center of the planter is a Red Flowering Currant, Nodding onion and Kinnikinnick
Led by Pat Calihou and JP the young artists were introduced to Red Cedar and Holly. Western Red Cedar is known as the Tree of Life by Coastal Indigenous peoples because of its versatility. Holly is an introduced species and known as an invasive plant. The young hands were each given a piece of cedar which was donated by artist Elisa Yon, each child learned how to sand, drew a design on and used their human energy to hand drilled a hole. The Holly wood pieces which were cut into tree cookies, were given to the young artists to write their name with a wood burner.