With the warm sun shining, a cool breeze blowing, students from Tsuut’ina Middle School welcomed students and staff from Hillhurst School for one last time.
Throughout this past year, Tsuut’ina Middle School students, and the Grade 5 and 6 students from Hillhurst School participated in an exchange program to foster relationships built on mutual respect and deepening understandings of the diverse cultures within each school’s unique setting.
Former principal of Hillhurst School, David Ball said, “It occurred to me that in order to really get at reconciliation in our country, we will need to actively get to know each other at a local level, interpersonally.”
This idea for the exchange, supported by members of the CBE Indigenous Education Team, brought members of the two communities together in conversation about the possibilities. Those possibilities were realized with a generous grant from EducationMatters.
Students had many opportunities to connect and learn from each other as well as from others. They were taught about learning from the land by Knowledge Keeper Hal Eagletail, about Dene cultural teachings by Elder Aroha Crowchild and about language learning from the Gunaha Institute. During their time together, friendships were made that braided together vastly different life experiences.
“Our foundational goals were to build relationships between the two communities’ members, develop respect through those relationships, and have the partnership guided by a value of reciprocity,” said Ball.
The final of four exchange days brought Hillhurst students out to the lands of the Tsuut’ina for an art walk that showcased their collaborative projects. During the year, canvasses, paint supplies and inspiration travelled from one school to the other. Each student exchange partnership created a piece of art to represent their growing understanding of each other and the relationship that this year’s work inspired.
“The most significant impact the Nihi Juna Project had on student learning was strengthening their understanding of what it means to be culturally responsive,” said Hillhurst principal, Prem Randhawa.
After a day of traditional Indigenous games, a feast, and much laughter, students from both schools joined hands together in a round dance. The dance symbolized their bond, interconnectedness, and was a way to give thanks for the relationships they built in light of reconciliation through education. The day was a huge success and one that students and teachers won’t soon forget.