Thursday 5 September 2019

Art-Science Programming for Indigenous Youth

Two university graduate students, Janay Fox and Alexandra Nordstrom, were eager to offer summer programming for students in grades 5-9 at Chief Poundmaker School. Their aim with the Asokan Project was to bridge gaps between arts and science, and Indigenous and western knowledge systems in order to facilitate more productive and sustainable conversations regarding conservation in Saskatchewan. EcoFriendly Sask provided them with a $500 EcoFriendly Action Grant to help them with this initiative. The following is Janay Fox’s account of the event. 

We provided 4 days of summer art-science programming for Indigenous youth on Poundmaker and Little Pine First Nations that focused on the intersection between arts, science, and conservation from an Indigenous perspective. We had 15 students attend each day and provided them with arts supplies that they could take home, prizes that encouraged scientific learning, outdoor activities, and healthy food every day. Students were able to learn from professional Indigenous artists, hear from real scientists leading conservation in Saskatchewan, and participate in programming that creates space for the exploration of Cree culture and Indigenous ways of learning – an opportunity that is rarely given in western institutions. We also took students to performances put on by the Storyteller's Performance Festival so that they could engage in the wider artistic and Indigenous community.

Our project also impacted the community by supporting two local Indigenous-owned companies (the caterer and the bus driver) as well as supporting an Indigenous artist (Dana Standinghorn). Leftover food from each day was sent home with students and the rest was donated to the local homeless shelter. Remaining art supplies were donated to Chief Poundmaker School.

We allowed students to engage in productive dialogues about how we can communicate environmental issues through art practice from an Indigenous perspective. We also allowed students to learn about art and science together as opposed to the diametrically opposing way they are taught in western schooling. The project helped foster connections between the local school, art and conservation communities, and the community at large and contributed to important discussions about conservation in our area. We hope that we helped students see that their perspectives have an important place in the scientific community and that they can meaningfully participate in environmental conservation.

The biggest success was the relationship we built with our students. From the beginning we wanted to maintain an environment where there was no hierarchy between instructors and students, working to create a space of openness and support where all people involved could learn from each other. Accordingly, my colleague and I found ourselves learning so much from our students and noticed that they felt comfortable to speak their minds. Additionally, all of the students gave us feedback on what we could change for next time and expressed interest in attending another camp put on by us.

We learned many lessons regarding what kind of activities students like to engage in (especially needing to include more physical activities!), what age groups would be best to break groups into, general logistical things that we did not think of, and also just to relax a little more during the actual camp (The kids have more fun if you're having fun too!). Honestly, there is nothing that immediately comes to mind to change. It was an extremely successful first run and while we had hoped for more students, more than 15 would have likely been unrealistic for us to handle. One thing that we will put in place for future camps will be the incorporation of a land-based learning component and the use of locally employed youth mentors.