The halls of Jasper Elementary School have been decked out with all sorts of student-made totem poles as part of a school-wide theme to start the year and help kids learn about their community and aboriginal culture.
“Every year we start with a theme,” said assistant principal Paulette Trottier. “We always try to incorporate something that’s going on in the community because the community is very important to us and we’re a big part of the community as well.”
This year, the school decided to go with the totem theme because of the recent installation of the new Two Brothers Totem Pole on Connaught Drive, which replaced the old Jasper Raven Totem Pole, which stood in Jasper National Park for 94 years.
“When the totem pole came down two or three years ago, the kids really felt it, and the community felt it because it had been something that was here for all of us and it’s a real landmark,” Trottier said. “People were emotional about seeing it go and so it was a big deal to get a new totem pole. And so a lot of kids went and sat and watched the new totem pole go up, and it’s a beautiful totem pole.”
A stroll through the hallways of Jasper Elementary these days will reveal totems of all shapes, sizes and styles. Each teacher came up with a variation on the theme for his or her class. Some students worked collaboratively on large-scale poles while others each made their own, individual totems.
“So of course a kindergarten totem pole would be different than a Grade 6 totem pole,” Trottier said.
Mme. Judith Desmeules’ Grade 6 French immersion class opted to build a pair of big totems as their project, learning about the different animals that make up each pole as they went.
Desmeules said the students had to choose a handful of animals from about 50 that have significance in aboriginal culture, and they made their decisions based on how well the characteristics of the animals matched up with their own values.
“We have things that are important to us – like respect and all – so we chose animals that had the same things that we wanted to have in our class,” explained Grade 6 student Juliana. “We chose a wolf, a porcupine, a pig, a turkey and one more ... oh yeah, an elk.”
“We kind of learned how to understand that animals have some things that are close to what humans do, like respect, loving your family and all of that,” added Jenna, another member of the class.
The students then set to work on designing their totems.
“We went on the Internet and we had to go to a site and get a picture of an animal and then we got cardboard boxes and started painting it and carving a shape in it,” explained Sophie.
After several days of creating, they placed the totems in the hallway outside their classroom along with write-ups about the various animals they chose and the values those animals possess.
Similar projects incorporating both art and social studies took place in classrooms throughout the school, Trottier said, and the resulting works are now on display throughout Jasper Elementary.
Grade 6 students on the animals in their totem poles
Le loup par Drew, Hope, Laggan et Thomas. Signfication du loup chez les Amérindiens: l’apprentissage, l’endurance et la famille. Cet animal est en lien avec une valeur de notre class parce que nous aimons apprendre, nous faison des efforts et nous sommes comme une famille qui s’entraide.
The wolf by Drew, Hope, Laggan and Thomas. Significance of the wolf among aboriginals: learning, endurance and family. This animal is related to the values of our class because we like to learn, we make effort and we are like a big family that helps one another.
Le chien par Jaco, Matthew et Lauren. Signfication du chien chez les Amérindiens: service aux autres et compassion. Le chien est considéré, dans certaines des traditions, comme le gardien des domaines secrets, le protecteur d’un savoir ancien. Cet animal est un lien avec une valeur de notre classe parce que nous aimons aider les autres.
The dog by Jaco, Matthew and Lauren. Significance of the dog among aboriginals: service to others and compassion.
The dog is considered, in some traditions, as the guardian of secret domains, the protector of ancient knowledge. This animal is related to the values of our class because we like helping others.
Le cerf par Chole, Saje et Macks. Chez les Amérindiens, le cerf signifiait la fierté et l’indépendance. Il nous aide à développer notre assurance. Cet animal est en lien avec les valeurs de notre classe parce qu’on a besoin d’assurance pour les tests. On a besoin de l’indépendance pour être un bon moniteur de classe.
The stag by Chloe, Saje and Macks. Among aboriginals, the stag signified pride and independence. It helps one develop confidence.
This animal is in keeping with the values of our class because we need confidence during our tests. We also need independence to be good classroom monitors.
written in French by the class, translated into English by the Fitzhugh