Ranch Learning Centre, Lamont, Alberta
As a teacher who works with at-risk Indigenous youth, Michel Blades Bird creates projects that focus on student engagement and building positive relationships, in addition to curriculum delivery. Keeping Tobacco Sacred is an initiative that fosters a reconnection to land, culture, and language for youth growing up in government care. As a personal and professional response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ninety-four calls to action, this project acknowledges the cultural genocide of Indigenous people that resulted from the residential school system.
Students follow the process of growing, drying, curing, and preparing tobacco for ceremony. By returning to traditional growing practices, students appreciate the time that a seed takes to grow into a plant, how humans affect nature, wahkohtowin — the concept of interrelatedness, — and the invested thought that goes into a request for prayer from an Elder. The entire process and cycle, along with the accompanying knowledge, becomes a constant for youth who are disconnected or absent from their home communities, cultures, and teachings. Keeping Tobacco Sacred fosters healthy life choices, miyopimâtisowin — the good life — and identity through land-based learning.