GENEVIEVE SOLER: Thank you. Merci. Good morning. Bonjour. [UNKNOWN] Fellow laureates, colleagues, and dear guests, thank you so much for welcoming Kayla and I here today on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Algonquin and the Anishnaabeg people.
KAYLA DALLYN: It's an honour to be recognized for our work on the Heroes Project and to have the opportunity to share it with you at today's [Canada's] History Forum.
Gen and I are both teachers at Exshaw School. I'll show you what it looks like…It's a K-8 public school of about 200 students, and it's nestled in Alberta’s beautiful Rocky Mountains. This is the traditional home and territory of the Stoney Nakoda Nations.
GENEVIEVE SOLER: My name is Genevieve, and I am the school's success teacher…and I love my job. I really feel I have the best job on the planet, really, but...I have the honour of working with students, families, elders, and knowledge keepers in order to make learning culturally relevant, engaging, and meaningful for our students at our school.
I attempt to create space in our school for voices, opportunities, language, and stories that have not always been welcomed in Canadian schools. We want our students to know the power in their history, their stories, the power of the people, and the strength that has always been found in the community and in the culture.
I, along with other passionate educators like Kayla, am committed to bringing the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action alive every day in our school.
KAYLA DALLYN: This is my third year at the school as a grade four teacher, and these are the wonderful grade four students that I taught last year...at the end of every day we have our cheer, and last year the students decided it would be, 'We're Grade 4! Hear us roar!...so we incorporated that up there.
So, last November, Gen and I began working on the Heroes Project, and our goal was to design an authentic learning opportunity for students that extended beyond the classroom.
We really wanted to design a task that they...could be more engaged with the Alberta social studies curriculum on a deep level, and we were really inspired by the words of former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine at a speech he gave to our staff at our opening day in September.
He encouraged us to find heroes that children can identify with, and to look for local stories that haven't been told. The following news clip does a fantastic job of outlining how our project came to life.
REPORTER 1: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report in 2015, but many critics complain little has been done to follow through. But, in a small school at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, a grade four project is proving that not only can it be done, the impact can be transformational. Here's Jefferson Humphreys.
STUDENT 1: My hero is John Chiniquay. He is my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and he signed Treaty 7. His original Cree name is Che-ne-ka.
STUDENT 2: My hero is Ta-Otha. He is my great-great-great-grandpa.
STUDENT 3: My hero is Joe Kootenay, Sr.
STUDENT 4: My hero is Louis Baptiste.
BOY 2: My hero's name is Moses Bear.
REPORTER 2: When school started, these nine-year-old kids at Exshaw School knew very little about their roots.
FRED POWDERFACE: Some of these kids...even their parents did not know about who their relatives were.
REPORTER 2: The Heroes Project changed all that. Teacher Kayla Dallyn and Amy Park from the U of C's Galileo [Educational] Network began a year-long initiative to help these kids find a hero.
KAYLA DALLYN: They're just bombarded with heroes, but they're not from their community...they don't see themselves in those people.
REPORTER 2: To do it, they approached the community's elders, who helped piece together the past. The impact was immediate.
SYKES POWDERFACE: [I'll] tell you, their eyes just lit up to...all of a sudden...they're now thinking about their history. This is who you were before. Now we're gonna learn more about 'who I am,' and it's about finding their identity.
STUDENT 5: I didn't even know I was related to a shaman...with supernatural powers.
REPORTER 2: Students carefully reconstructed family trees.
KAYLA DALLYN: When they got to learn about Indigenous heroes from their own family, you could just see it in them...they sat up a little straighter, they looked directly at the elders instead of staring at the floor, they just...their whole demeanour changed.
REPORTER 2: And, it wasn't just the students who reconnected with their roots.
FRED POWDERFACE: Oh, it was...unbelievable. It was unbelievable because...we, we as Nakoda are an oral group. We have oral traditions, and...for a time there, we'd lost some of that teaching, that oral teaching.
SYKES POWDERFACE: Let's give our children back what they've lost, what we've lost, through the residential school...is reconciling them with the past.
REPORTER 2: Then, renowned Canadian artist Christine Wignall helped the children bring their heroes to life. They shaped and painted busts of their ancestors, and shared their work at artsPlace gallery in Canmore.
AMY PARK: I had the opportunity to meet Kayla in October...
REPORTER 2: Proud educators and elders also learned a few things along the way.
KAYLA DALLYN: They've worked all year on this project, and if you have high expectations for kids, and you support them, they can do anything, and they proved that.
FRED POWDERFACE: It felt really good to pass on what myself and the other knowledge keepers have known...to our grandchildren...and it felt wonderful.
REPORTER 1: And, the exhibition runs through the long weekend at artsPlace in Canmore.
KAYLA DALLYN: This project truly started with small stories and big ideas. We wanted to share personal stories that had not been told, and to design a learning opportunity that would engage students in a meaningful way. In doing so, we were able to provide students with a unique opportunity to connect community, culture, and curriculum.
Through the Heroes Project, students engaged in authentic Truth and Reconciliation work, and developed a deeper sense of pride and identity.
GENEVIEVE SOLER: The theme of this panel is making personal stories big. In keeping with that theme, we would like to close by sharing the words of some of the elders and the knowledge keepers who worked on this project.
Unfortunately, we worked with a team of, some days, twelve elders...eight knowledge keepers…it was a really...for me as a teacher to work in that kind of collaborative environment was something so unique and so truly inspiring and...I'm really saddened today to not have them all here with us.
So, you saw [in the video clip]...you saw Fred and Sykes there, and there's Corleigh Powderface in the bottom corner, and you're gonna meet three more of the elders that worked with us...and the children, and…for me, and for Kayla, it was really important to have their voices here with us today…and to close off our session.
This project created a space for them to share their personal stories, their histories, and their culture in a way that they hadn't been invited to do so in schools before.
So, here in this next clip we'll have elder Virgle Stephens, elder Philomene Stevens, and knowledge keeper Tracey Stevens share the impact of this experience and what it meant to them as individuals and their community.
VIRGLE STEPHENS: My name is Virgle Stephens, and I'm a Stoney member…Stoney band member, Morley Reserve. It's very important for young generation to learn about history. I have learned from my parents, and other older people, about my history by telling stories, sharing stories.
It is very important that we...know who we are and learn about history, and today, it's a great day for me to say a few words...so that our children, our community, can learn more going to a public school, and...I thank you.
TRACEY STEVENS: [SPEAKING IN STONEY LANGUAGE]
It's very important to tell our young generation to know where they, who their origins are, where they come from, 'cause that way they will have...they will have understanding of everything and they will have a better life in the future.
PHILOMENE STEVENS: My name is Philomene Stevens. [SPEAKING IN STONEY LANGUAGE] I'm from the Stoney Nakoda First Nations. [SPEAKING IN STONEY LANGUAGE]
The Heroes Project is carrying on our culture, teaching...it's, it's our education...recognizing Nakoda Stoney heroes is a healing for the community and the identity of who we are. Now it can be carried on in the future.
The children were so excited to find out who their grandparents, great-grandparents were. It really lift their spirits. It's a reawakening of who we are...a reawakening of the community.
GENEVIEVE SOLER: Thank you. Pi Na Mauch. I'm so grateful for this work and the opportunity to work with all of our friends, and the children, and especially Kayla. It's been an honour to be a part of this project.
KAYLA DALLYN: Thank you for having us here today to share our story.
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