The case studies from the schools involved in the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network are filled with rich accounts of the ways in which teachers, principals, learners and elders are working together to create new and powerful forms of learning. We have been moved and impressed by the work at Nala'atsi School in Comox. Here is part of their story:
“Masks are elaborate and everyone has one.”
- Nala’atsi Mask Project participant
Mask making has become an annual tradition at Nala’atsi in the Comox Valley. Nala’atsi is an alternate program for Aboriginal students in grades 10-12 in School District #71. The school is closely connected to the Nin’ogad, Wachiay, K’omox and MIKI’SIW Aboriginal groups, and the Mask Project is a way to bring members of the community into the school to work collaboratively with students.
Toresa Crawford has been teaching at Nala’atsi since the program’s inception in 2000. She started the Mask Project several years ago, and has been focussing the school inquiry around how the project may increase students’ sense of belonging and cultural awareness through multi-generational connections with Elders in the community.
This past school year Nala’atsi had 34 participants – a diverse group of Elders, students and community members with a variety of interests, abilities, skills and knowledge about their Aboriginal ancestry. The group started with a sharing circle, with everyone introducing the person next to them and getting to know each other in a safe, respectful environment. Then, and over the course of the next two weeks, everyone participated in creating a mask and accompanying by a written piece that spoke to their creation.
All 34 participants completed the Mask Project. Often times Elders would come into the school to work on their masks with the students, sharing tea and stories, and building connections with one another. Take a look at this beautiful poster that showcases the culmination of this year’s efforts.
On the final day of the project, the group shared tea and snacks and everyone will receive a copy of the poster as a keepsake. Toresa Crawford, through her recent AESN case study really captures why the project has become so successful: “It is important for our students to feel that they not only belong but that they have a network of people who they can count on in the Aboriginal community. Projects like this encourage diverse groups of people (who are often in different generations) to share their stories through art in a welcoming environment. It also provides many opportunities to make connections and to form relationships with positive role models”.
We can’t wait to see what next year brings for the Mask Project. Until then, here a few comments from this year’s participants:
“The students are so interesting and I love coming into this building. I wish so much that I had had a chance to go to school at Nala’atsi. This place is VERY healing for me” - Elder 72 years
“I didn’t think that it would be so revealing about who I am. I was okay letting others know about who I am” - Youth 16 years