Students building Mi'kmaw wigwam at Liverpool school

Kids at a Liverpool, N.S., elementary school had an unconventional assignment this week: dig up spruce roots.

Grades 4 and 5 students at Dr. John C. Wickwire Academy spent Tuesday morning in a woodlot, many getting up to their elbows in soil and moss.

"I love learning about Mi'kmaw culture and I finally get to get dirty without getting in trouble," said Julia Malcolm.

Malcolm and her classmates were working alongside Mi'kmaw craftsman Todd Labrador, gathering materials for a wigwam they're helping build this week on their school grounds.

After boiling and trimming the roots, Labrador uses them as twine to hold pieces of birchbark and wood together. They'll form the seams of the wigwam.

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The school partnered with Labrador after receiving a $5,000 grant from the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. 

The master builder, who is known for his handmade birchbark canoes and from the nearby Acadia First Nation, said the wigwam project is a chance to share Mi'kmaq traditions with students and let them relish the natural world.

"It's really important for kids today to get back outside. [There's] so much attention on staying inside and playing video games, but outside you'll get a better connection," said Labrador as students bounded out of the woods with loops of root bound around their arms.

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Flora MacDonald, who is Mi'kmaq, said her grandfather showed her how to dig roots when she was younger and she was pleased to see her classmates give it a try.

"I think it's important so we all know about the Mi'kmaq culture. And so we can all learn about it and that the Mi'kmaq culture goes on and on and never stops so we don't forget about it," the Grade 5 student said.

Her classmate Kassidy Lowe said she "love[s] supporting Mi'kmaq culture."

"If you think about it, the First Nations were here before us. I think it's cool to learn about them," she said. 

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When completed, the wigwam will be permanently installed in an area next to the elementary school's soccer field in an area that's already used as an outdoor classroom.

Principal Stacey Thorburn said the field trip captured the children's attention and imagination in a way that indoor lessons can't.

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"Every single kid was doing something, they were being part of the project. If you were to go into a classroom, you may not see the interest you would see here. You would never know the abilities of kids or anything. Having the outdoors, it's amazing," said Thorburn.

Labrador, who worked alongside his daughter and her two children, said being in the woods is good for everyone.

"Today you don't see any barriers, everybody's happy," he said. It doesn't matter what anyone's background is, they're all having a great time digging roots."

Submitted by Melissa Labrador