about respected elders, land claims, settlement patterns and family
Mcleod teaching the Gwich'in Studies course to high school
students in her classroom at Moose Kerr School.
Gwich'in educators in the N.W.T., have developed a high school
course for students that hopes to reclaim the aboriginal group's
culture after the legacy of residential schools.
"I think it's a reclamation of identity of who we are as
a people and how we instill that in our youth," said Velma
Illasiak, principal at Aklavik's Moose Kerr School.
The course was developed by Gwich'in teachers, elders and cultural
researchers after they met in 2014.
It's taught in English and compliments Gwich'in language classes
that students take throughout the Beaufort-Delta region.
The course covers a range of topics about Gwich'in culture and
history. Students learn about land claims, geographical settlement
patterns, family structures and stories of respected elders.
11 student Dwight Stefansson learned about his great-grandfather's
childhood and daily life in the Gwich'in course.
"I always knew there was definitely more to learn about,"
said Grade 11 student Dwight Stefansson, who was one of the first
students to take the course this year.
Many aboriginal groups continue to struggle with the legacy
of residential schools, where some students were sexually and physically
abused and forbidden to speak their native languages.
Some still blame the tainted history of the schools for low
graduation rates among aboriginal students, which today hover around
50 per cent in the Northwest Territories.
Teacher hopes course can make a difference
"Some of us who have been in residential school for so
long education is so linked to residential schools we have
to get over that," Gwich'in elder Ruth Stewart said when the
curriculum was being developed.
AnnaLee McLeod and Principal Velma Illasiak from Moose Kerr
School. "I think it's a reclamation of identity of who
we are as a people and how we instill that in our youth,"
That view has been passed down from generation to generation,
and Gwich'in teacher AnnaLee McLeod hopes the new course can change
She says some elements are getting students to sit up in their
seats, especially when they learn about local elders.
"Looking at them you see their eyes. A little twinkle here
and there. And then they go, 'Who is this person?' And I go, 'You
are related to that person,' and they go, 'What!'" said Mcleod
from her classroom at Moose Kerr School.
The elective course is being taught in the communities of Aklavik
and Fort McPherson and compliments a course developed for Inuvialuit
students. In addition to in-class study, the course also has an
Social and Cultural Institute launches maps of traditional place
Gwich'in Place Names And Story Atlas
Since 1992, the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute (GSCI) has
worked with Gwich'in Elders and traditional land users to document
place names and create an inventory of heritage sites in the Gwich'in
Settlement Region. Although initially meant to complement archaeological
research being carried out near one of the Gwichin communities,
the project was expanded to the entire Gwichin Settlement
Region upon the request of Gwichin Elders due to concerns
that their place names and accompanying oral history were in danger
of being lost.
We are one of the most northerly aboriginal peoples on the North
American continent, living at the northwestern limits of the boreal
forest. Only the Inuit live further north. We are part of a larger
family of Aboriginal people known as Athapaskans, which include
peoples such as the Slavey, Dogrib, Han and Tutchone but our language
and way of life is distinct.