The Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) students of Rutland Senior Secondary School in Kelowna, B.C., exchanged their hockey sticks for stalks of dogbane for a class back in October.
And what did these teenagers end up doing with the herbaceous plants from the Okanagan Valley?
Following the instructions of Kevin Kaiser, the resource teacher and consultant for the Central Okanagan Public School District’s Aboriginal Education Program, they meticulously converted the dogbane into a practical commodity.
“I walked the students through the process of breaking the dogbane down to its fibres so it could be twisted into a usable rope,” remarks the educator with over 15 years of teaching experience.
Kaiser, a member of the Stellat’en First Nation, is esteemed for his Indigenous education programming. In 2009, he was feted with a Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence for developing a First Nations English 9 course at Dr. Knox Middle School in Kelowna.
While the process was more puzzling for some students than for others, the group successfully fashioned the fibres into a rope.
Grade 9 HCSA freshman Kurtis Kinlshiga says the activity required focus and precision.
“Building the rope was pretty neat. It was a pretty difficult [activity]. You had to be delicate and take your time to make sure you don’t snap [the dogbane].”
Kinlshiga adds that he and his classmates noticed that the attention to detail and determination required to successfully make the rope are traits that can be transferable to the ice.
Intern teacher Lindsay Ellis collaborated with the school’s HCSA lead, Kurt Corman, to organize Kaiser’s guest seminar at Okanagan Mission Secondary School. She has operated different activities in the first months of the school year to get the Rutland students participating in fitness programs to work on their mental health to the same degree they fixate on their physical health.
“We wanted to show the different ways that mindfulness can help foster positive mental health growth. For some of us, it is a chill walk that works best, and for others, it is meditation. We wanted to show our students an Indigenous perspective about how mindfulness can be attained by building rope.”
Throughout his years of completing the exercise with students throughout Central Okanagan Public Schools – and other involving assignments like making arrows from rose hip stems and gathering red willow to mount a sweat lodge – Kaiser says the mental acuity required to execute this immersive handiwork also engenders an environment for engaging and thought-provoking conversation.
“This is a forum to engage in good conversations, share stories and connect with your cousins, brothers or, in this case, teammates. I think it does bring people together and establishes bonds.”
Kaiser also devotes some time during this casual forum to speak about his childhood, discuss interesting tidbits about Indigenous culture – outlining customs such as the medicine wheel and the foundational importance of storytelling – and perhaps most importantly, to underscore how important it is to recognize the land where you live.
“We try to ensure that students leave these land-based learning presentations with some understanding of local Indigenous territory and hopefully, some connection with the land.”
The Central Okanagan district and the Aboriginal Education Council recognized the local Indigenous territory in a published Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement back in 2014. The document states that the council and school board “acknowledge and honour the traditional territory and history of the Okanagan (Syilx) People and Westbank First Nation as our host band.”
Kaiser’s message about recognizing community also reinforces the principles of inclusivity and grassroots community values that each Hockey Canada Skills Academy champions.