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Pacfic Coast School students learn from the land

Students were taught how to harvest cedar bark by a Metlakatla elder on June 8
Fanny Nelson taught Pacific Coast Students how to harvest cedar during a trip to Metlakatla on June 8. (Submitted photo)

Pacific Coast School (PCS) students were given an opportunity to use their hands to learn about a craft that has been practiced for centuries on the northwest coast.

On June 8, approximately 15 students took a ferry to Metlakatla where they learned the art of cedar harvesting from elder, Fanny Nelson. The trip was organized by PCS in partnership both with the Metlakatla Stewardship Society and the Aboriginal Education Department with School District 52.

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“They were really excited about being able to do it,” said James Zlatanov, a helping teacher with the Aboriginal Education Department. “They really liked the idea of being shown how to do something with their culture and then getting to do it themselves was good for them.”

Nelson walked the students through the process of stripping the outer bark from cedar trees while leaving the inner bark intact. She then taught them how to soften and process the bark with hot water to fashion it into different items. Most importantly, Nelson taught the student to respect and care for the trees.

The students brought their bark back with them to Kaien Island. At some point in the future, Nelson may come to provide additional instruction on how to shape it.

The trips, and other activities like it, are part of a larger vision of education called learning on the land. The goal of learning on land is to get students outside of the classroom and into a natural environment where they can learn about their culture first-hand as opposed to only experiencing it through a textbook.

The student responded well to Nelson, whose hands-on teaching style allowed them to learn by doing.

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“It wasn’t ‘I’ll show you and then you’ll do it in a couple of years,’” Zlatanov said. “It was ‘I’ll show you and you can try it now’.”

Other trips similar to the cedar harvest have been organized in the region— some in conjunction with the Aboriginal Education Department and some independently— with the same goal in mind. These include clam and cockle harvesting, beach and plant walks and seaweed harvesting.

“These activities are relevant to their culture, they’re fun, and the allow students who are from some of these villages to lead in the learning themselves,” said Roberta Edzerza, district principle for Aboriginal Education in SD52.