TLDSB, Glen Orchard Public School, and the Wahta Mohawk community have been involved in a collaborative inquiry for the past two years that was facilitated by the Ontario Ministry of Education. The end result was ‘Gathering Place’, a space where students and staff could increase their understanding of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultural teachings. On May 8, 2017, Glen Orchard PS hosted a grand opening of ‘Gathering Place’. Parents and community members were invited to a special evening to learn more about the purpose of the room.

There were presentations by Blaze Sahanatien, Chief Terry Sahanatien, Chief Phillip Franks (all from Mohawk Territory), Senator Larry Duval (Moon River Métis Council), and a student from Glen Orchard Public School who spoke about the impact of the ‘Gathering Place’ on the students. Director of Education Larry Hope and Chair of Board Louise Clodd were also there to bring greetings.

Terry Sahanatien belongs to the Bear Clan family of the Haudenaushonee, meaning The Longhouse People. Terry’s family lives in Wahta Mohawk Territory on Muskoka Road 38. Terry has dedicated most of his life in learning the Mohawk language, traditions, and culture of the Mohawk people. He enjoys sharing his knowledge with students and the community. Terry has been an integral part of the development of this new cultural exchange in partnership.

Blaze is a student in TLDSB who has been brought up in the ways of the Longhouse People since birth. He lives with his grandparents on the Wahta Mohawk Territory. Currently, he is a grade 12 student at Gravenhurst High School. In 2015, he was nominated for the Ontario Junior Citizen Award for his exceptional and inspirational achievements. Blaze speaks his Mohawk language and is a faithkeeper for the Turtle Clan family.

Strawberries, cornbread, corn mush, and maple syrup were some of the foods sampled at the grand opening. Strawberries are a leader of the wild berries, and are a detoxifying medicine drink. Cornbread is used extensively in Haudenosaunee ceremonies and is one of the life supporter foods. Corn mush is used for daily meals, and for medicine and longhouse ceremonies. Maple syrup comes from maple trees, the leader of the trees, and used as a ceremonial food. Mohawks celebrate Earth’s rejuvenation with three maple ceremonies.

A Bit of History

As a team, a collaborative inquiry began in TLDSB in April of 2016 when a vision and action plan transpired. The goals of the collaborative inquiry included:

  • First Nations’ students will see themselves and their culture directly reflected in the learning environment of their school. This reflection will help students feel more secure and safe and thereby realize greater academic success
  • All students will reconnect to the environment and understand the foundation that the natural world provides through land-based learning
  • All students will have the experiential opportunity to learn authentically from a Mohawk Elder
  • All students will understand the character values that are embodied in the Mohawk teachings
  • Staff will have a better understanding of First Nations’ culture, history, and traditions, and feel more confident to celebrate and integrate the learning in their classrooms

In the Spring of 2016, the first step of learning was to support staff knowledge and understanding. As a result, staff were able to visit the longhouse at the Wahta Community for a day of learning with Chief Terry Sahanatien and his wife, Lucia Sahanatien. Following the visit, a commitment was made to move forward with Chief Terry as an elder in the school to provide experiential learning through oral story telling. At the same time, the board purchased a beautiful First Nations, Métis, and Inuit style rug and a number of resources such as books, games, and wompom belts.

In the Fall of 2016, it was decided that the next step was to provide a place within the school for Chief Terry to begin his teachings. At that time the idea for ‘Gathering Place’ was born. The vision for the resource room was that it would be a place where students and staff could increase their understanding of FNMI and cultural teachings. Parents and other stakeholders in the community could also access resources in the room to deepen their own understanding of FNMI culture, history, and traditions. The room itself would be a place where all cultures could be celebrated and everyone would be encouraged to share their traditions.

From October 2016 to January 2017, the longhouse benches were built by BMLSS students. The room came alive with resources, paintings, and furniture. On January 17, 2017, Chief Terry has his first visit to the school. He visited each classroom in the school to meet the students and further the story of cultures coming together. On February 15, 2017, each class had their first visit to the longhouse in the Gathering Place. Chief Terry explained the traditions and cultural expectations when visiting the longhouse and then began the Mohawk story of creation.

The teachings for Chief Terry’s visits were shared with parents prior to gatherings, so they would be able to support their child’s learning. This included information about the seven grandfather teachings inherent in the stories (humility, honesty, respect, courage, wisdom, truth, and love) combined with coming together in peach with a good heart and a good mind.

We look forward to continuing this journey of learning, on the path to truth and reconciliation and whole-heartedly thank all those involved in making this happen.