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Boundary students strengthen bond through Indigenous art project

Bright spools of thread recently wound their way through Boundary Elementary – strengthening school spirit and collaboration.

Bright spools of thread recently wound their way through Boundary Elementary – strengthening school spirit and collaboration. 

The foundation was laid in the fall, with the North Vancouver School District Indigenous Education team being invited to foster a school-wide Métis art project.

Echoes of the Coast Salish anthem and the movement of the Métis dancers guided Boundary students and staff in April, as the first needle was threaded and initial dot of paint touched paper.  

Teachings were shared by Kiskino humakew’iskwew (Heather Myhre) and Stephanie Maki, who taught the students about the history of the Métis and how they are known as the Flower Beadwork People. The cross-curricular project embedded Indigenous education and encouraged art and design skills in the students.

Kindergarten to Grade 5 classes created “dot art” paintings inspired by the works of Métis artist Christi Belcourt, while Grade 6 and 7 students learned beading from Myhre, who shared teachings from Métis artisan Lisa Shepherd.

“I learned that when the Europeans came to Canada, some of the Métis people had to hide their culture and their beautiful beading,” one of the students remarked. “We were really happy and thankful that we got to learn a little bit about the Métis beading and painting.”

Another student said they learned patience through the art project, and others enjoyed being creative as they watched their flowers and hummingbirds take shape – dot by dot.

The first time the students viewed the collective artwork was after it was all pieced together. Rings of butterflies, hummingbirds and flowers frame the colourful beadwork in the centre of the rectangular composition.

Since their handiwork has been put on display at the school, vice-principal Jeeniece Chand has found groups of students huddled around the art piece, hearing exclaims of: “There is mine!” or “Wow! Look at the beautiful beading on this one!”

For their teachers, seeing the finished work of art showed them the creativity and learning that comes through student choice.

“Many staff members have commented on how it taught them a different way to teach, to be OK with stepping back from always giving all of the answers and letting the students strengthen their skills and learn from their mistakes,” said Chand.

The closing ceremony for Boundary school’s celebration of learning took place on May 23, with many members of the community in attendance alongside the students and staff.

Squamish Nation member Dallas Gus led the assembled through the Coast Salish anthem, followed by performances by the Norgate Xwemélch’stn Métis Jiglets and Métis fiddle player Keith Hill. The students and staff took a moment to reflect on their experience.

“It is nice to be surrounded by our own art all put together into one big picture for our whole school,” said one of the young artists.