Grade 6 Indigenous students at W. A. Fraser Middle School were presented with a unique opportunity in late April this year. BC Agriculture in the Classroom (B PAC) invited our Indigenous Students to aid in the reconstruction of their Medicine Wheel Garden that was washed away in the floods last November. With the replanting, the group decided on more culturally significant and appropriate selections of plants. Each section of the medicine wheel has a teaching, and they wanted the plants in each section to be intentional.
Working collaboratively with several people from the district and local First Nations, we were able to identify culturally significant plants from the area. Many of the plants chosen for the garden were traditionally used for medicinal practices, including sage, cedar and tobacco.
Tobacco can be a very difficult plant to find in this area, although it is still used in many traditional practices today. We were unable to secure tobacco plants, so instead, we decided to harvest them ourselves. We collaborated with our Library Learning Commons teacher to source tobacco seeds from a local company and had a small group of students plant the seeds. The plants are growing in our LLC “nursery” and once the seedlings grow strong enough, we will be relocating the tobacco; some will be planted in a medicine wheel quadrant, some will remain in our school garden, and some will be used for traditional practices.
Elder Trudy Watson from Semá:th First Nation joined the students at the garden. She provided us with extensive knowledge on the medicine wheel teachings, land-based learning, and traditional medicines. Once the students finished planting, Elder Trudy shared a prayer for the plants. She thanked the land and asked for the plants to grow strong and healthy before sprinkling tobacco as an offering and display of gratitude.
Land-based learning practices are underutilized in the colonial school system but hold so much value for Indigenous students. Our Grade 6 students practiced grounding themselves, working physically with the land and incorporating traditional knowledge and values. These opportunities help our Indigenous Students reclaim their identities, learn more about their ancestry, and build a sense of pride in our community at school. For many, it was a rare opportunity to learn on the land, about the land and to do so from a local elder.
To leave things in a good way, the students presented Elder Trudy with gifts from Fraser and BCAC. Through the tradition of gifting, students learned the values of respect and gratitude. Here are some of their biggest takeaways:
“I liked learning about how tobacco helps the earth and helps plants grow and like we’re growing tobacco now, which is really cool.”
“It was so cool walking there and seeing and learning about the plants in people’s gardens. I also thought it was cool when Elder Trudy taught us about some of the medicines that you can find right in your own backyard.”
“I think that Elder Trudy was inspiring from the teachings she said and how she taught us cool things about Indigenous history. Also, I liked planting. It was cool to see how many we put in the soil. You kind of had to measure too. It was similar to baking, and I like baking.”
“In school, you learn the same thing every day, and this field trip felt almost like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You got an option of how you wanted to participate, whether you wanted to plant new seeds or the already grown plants. At school you just have to do it.”
“I like the environment of it and all the teachings about the medicine wheel Trudy taught us. It was calming to do, but everyone was very excited.”
TAYLOR KNOX, INDIGENOUS SUPPORT WORKER
W.A. Fraser Middle