Students learn Indigenous teachings through new program at Wallaceburg High School

Standing Bear is a new program at Wallaceburg High School that is bringing traditional Indigenous teachings to students — many of whom are from Walpole Island First Nation — in an effort to teach them about their culture and history.

The curriculum covers a range of teachings, including beading, drumming and hunting.

It also offers students the opportunity to meet with elders on Walpole Island, which in turn helps them build a community of support.

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Developed by Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO), the program started as a pilot project for Indigenous youth last year and was only taught at camps, but now it's offered year-round to all Grade 11 and Grade 12 students at the school.

Zhahwun Shognosh, an Ojibwe/Native Studies teacher at the school and the teacher lead of the program, said the ultimate goal of the program is to help students learn about who they are and live up to their full potential.

"Our kids need this ... to get a background and an understanding of where they come from, so they can walk with their heads held high and use all of their potential to make something of themselves," she said.

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Indigenous students in the class say it's an opportunity for them to better understand themselves and their culture in a meaningful way.

"There's things in this class that we learn that's Indigenous that we wouldn't really know before," said 16-year-old Justin Rothery.

"It gives me some insight and some intriguing questions about my roots, where I'm from, where my Native half ... is."

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"It's very important to me because ... a lot of the high schools don't really teach that kind of stuff," said 16-year-old Indigenous student, Zander Williams. 

"I like to see other people trying to learn or at least get a little bit of knowledge of how our ancestors lived," he added.

Shognosh, who learned such teachings at home growing up, said culture isn't often taught that way anymore, adding that this makes it more important for Indigenous youth to learn about it at school.

Robin Isaac, a career advisor at the school, also says there is a disconnect with today's Indigenous youth.

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"A lot of our families weren't shown how to love and how to raise a family because of the traumas that a lot of them have dealt with when they went to residential schools," Isaac said.

"There's that intergenerational trauma that a lot of our families are still dealing with," she said.

Expanding the program

Shognosh said a growing number of students are expressing interest in wanting to partake in the course.

She hopes to see the program continue to expand to help more students understand their roots and empower them moving forward.