In words and pictures, students from schools in Métis settlements in northern Alberta have brought together fascinating stories — many told by elders — and packaged them into a new book.
Title of the book produced in partnership with Cenovus Energy and available on Amazon Finding the fire within.
Elder Archie Collins, who lives in the Elizabeth Métis settlement south of Cold Lake, worked with the students at Elizabeth School.
The stories Collins told the students were not new or different. They are normal things that happen in society.
He remembers one particular story of a young fellow catching a beaver that was almost as tall as him, he said.
“When I was younger, we hunted a lot of beaver and went camping,” Collins said.
“They were worth quite a bit of money back then.”
The book begins with the story of student Max Sagan my favorite hobby, About waking up early to go moose hunting with his father.
“My heart was pounding with excitement and a big smile spread across my face,” Sagan wrote in a story he wrote with his school principal.
Another story from Elder Mary McKenzie, told to students at the Bill Woodward School in Anzac How the black poplar got its sacred bark.
In October 2021, teachers from several schools in the Northland School Division met on Zoom to plan the project.
Their vision is to tell stories from Métis settlements, each community approaching the project differently.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a book that’s a collaborative anthology that represents all the different communities and different schools,” says Karen Davis at CBC. Edmonton AM.
Davis was the principal of the Elizabeth School in the Métis settlement of Elizabeth.
Headmasters from each school in the division invited elders from their communities to meet the students.
Due to the pandemic, students were unable to meet their elders in person until this spring.
Davis interviewed the elder her school was working with two or three times.
“He told us stories from his whole life,” she said.
“When we talk to adults we make sure we’re allowed to rewrite their story in our own words and explain it to them.”
The teacher divides the students into groups for writing, transcription and drawing.
At Hillview School in the East Prairie Métis settlement, southeast of High Prairie, elementary student Karma El Hirondelle is among a group transcribing an elder’s story.
Her classmate Steven was involved in creating the art of Big Charles stories.
Keep the culture alive
This isn’t the first time Collins, a community leader for 30 years, has told stories to students at the school.
His wife Elizabeth used to teach students about their language and culture at school.
“She always brings me to school to talk about culture, the future,” he said.
4:15Stories are shared from elders
Elders in indigenous cultures passed on stories in a variety of ways – for example, orally, through song, and through drumming.
Writing stories is often unusual, but one Collins hopes will continue.
“I think it’s a great way to keep the culture alive and keep the stories alive and bring them to new kids as well,” he said.
Collins said she enjoyed contributing Finding the fire within, Although it took a bit of time to coordinate things for the project.
“It was very exciting when they first approached me to take my stories and make a book.”