Students at Mount Boucherie Secondary School in West Kelowna were proud to show off the art that they created during a unique type of class.
The course, called Indigenous Art Studio 12, was created by art teacher Jim Elwood. After teaching the class for 20 years, Elwood’s efforts have recently made waves across the province.
His Indigenous Art course has been officially recognized as a credit that can be used towards the provincial Indigenous graduation requirements.
Elwood said that over the years he has seen such benefit for students that he believes that all school districts across the province should adopt the class’ framework.
“When you see what the kids get from it, you’ll say yeah– we can’t not do this class,” Elwood said.
At an end of term presentation and art show, on Jan. 16, students and Elwood, spoke about the course and the benefits of learning about Indigenous culture through an artistic lens.
“We’re trying to really advocate the learning that this class is doing, because it is a different way of learning,” said Faith Johnson-Jourdain, a Grade 12 student at Mount Boucherie.
Johnson-Jourdain has Indigenous heritage but before the class with Elwood, never had never had the opportunity to learn her culture.
With knowledge and a newfound understanding of her Indigenous family’s past, Johnson-Jourdain was able to start conversations with her her parents and extended family members.
Johnson-Jourdain explained that many of the Indigenous aspects of her family’s history just were not talked about, until she knew enough to ask.
Because of these meaningful conversations, Johnson-Jourdain learned that one of her uncles had been a carver. Inspired by his legacy, she used important family symbolism and teachings from the course to create her own carving of a heron.
In addition to a set curriculum, Elwood caters the courses’ teachings to fit the needs of each specific class, exploring different cultures each team. The students are empowered to create based on what they learn and feel most connected to.
“The class and the learning is part of reconciling with what has happened in the past.”
Johnson-Jourdain explained that before the class, she really had no prior knowledge of Canada’s Indigenous people. She was had not been taught about First Nations culture or residential schools and the long-lasting impacts of colonialism.
Through the class, Johnson-Jourdain was able to reconnect with her heritage and create meaningful art, including a painting that served as a final goodbye and way to connect with her late grandparents.
“It’s my way of reconnecting with myself, of reconnecting with a culture that I didn’t really have growing up.”
Elwood hopes that the style of course is picked up by schools across the province in order to foster a love of art and an understanding of Indigenous heritage in the next generation.