Culture class
Rae students learn about Dogrib heritage

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Rae-Edzo (May 08/00) - The children of Rae-Edzo will get a crash course in Dogrib culture throughout the coming weeks.

Over the next two weeks, the students of Elizabeth MacKenzie elementary school will conduct group research on animals and plants that have influenced the Dogrib in the past and present.

With the help of teachers, the children will explore the subject's habitat, life cycle and economic importance, says principal Dave Matthews.

"They will then try to illustrate how this particular animal (or plant) has been a part of the people's lives in the past and how it still is a part of their lives," Matthews said.

The illustrations will be achieved through the use of posters, stories, models and food and fur samples.

When completed, the exhibits will be displayed at the school during a cultural fair held May 23-26.

The kindergarten class has chosen fish as their subject and the Grade 6 students will illustrate the importance of trees. Other groups have chosen animals such as the bald eagle, raven, bear, beaver, caribou, muskrat and wolverine.

Matthews said the cultural fair will be a fun and exciting activity for the children, while allowing them to acquire scientific, historic and traditional knowledge at the same time.

"It's really an integration of science, social studies and Dogrib language and culture. What we want to do is have the school really reflect what the Dogrib people are all about," he said.

Matthews hopes the event will help students better identify with and understand their own heritage.

"Today, so many people are living in the community rather than experiencing the land, so what we're trying to do is perhaps open the door to increase their knowledge," he said.

Kathryn Walker's Grade 4 and 5 class spends about half of every school day preparing for the cultural fair. That group is researching the Black Bear and the Grizzly Bear.

Walker said the children have started writing fictional and personal experience stories about bears, reading about them, drawing pictures and making plastic models of the animal's habitat.

"We want the parents and the elders to come in and see that the kids know a lot about their culture and to let them know that getting involved is a good thing," said Walker.

Therese Mantla's Grade 3 class has been researching the muskrat and even spent two days camping to learn about the animal first- hand.

The children visited muskrat push-ups on Great Slave Lake and only ate food that a muskrat would eat.

"They didn't want to eat it but that's all we had," laughed Mantla.

"A lot of the kids never experienced being away from home out on the land. They were quite cold but they all shared blankets and they were really good about it," she said.

Mantla is also encouraging the kids to speak the Dogrib language in the classroom.

"A lot of them are just speaking English and every time we say a word in Dogrib they would just laugh. But a lot of them are starting to read Dogrib," she said.

"The school is really pretty strong in culture so we're trying to get more and more Dogrib language in the school so that they don't lose their language," Walker added.

Representatives from the local Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development office will visit the school over the next two weeks to further assist the students with their projects.