Aboriginal Heritage Festival explores native cultures

The sounds of drums, native Sports and storytelling were all part of the Aboriginal Heritage Festival experience last week at the Wellington County Museum.

The three-day event included two days of school education and a third day aimed at the general public.

Colinda Clyne, Upper Grand District School Board curriculum leader of First Nations, Metis, Inuit education, explained that while she had only been with the program one year, the festival has existed here for a while now.

“In the past, there was simply a one-day session for schools, but we felt there was more demand so we turned it into a two-day event.”

“Even so, organizers had to turn over 1,000 students; there was that much interest.”

The Aboriginal Heritage Festival is for First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.

“We bring in local guests and those from further afield who can run workshops appropriate for younger children.”

Clyne said the students are engaged in traditional thoughts and activities – “perhaps something outside what they might do in the classroom … and to compliment what the teachers are doing.

“A number of those taking part have come out since the beginning of the festival.”

In addition, local community members are asked to present their knowledge to the children.

“Some people may be very knowledgeable, but it doesn’t necessarily translate well to Grade 6 students.”

In addition to commenting on the many individuals involved, Clyne spoke of John Somosi and his drums, stating, “He is just so engaging with the kids.”

During one workshop on May 1, Somosi engaged students with both humour and a mix of familiar and native songs to participate in with their drumming. Clyne commented that even as the students left for the day, they were still talking about what happened in the workshop.

“The kids were having so much fun,” she said.

While this is the only festival of its kind in the Upper Grand District School Board, Clyne noted there was a similar program in the Waterloo Region. “They’ve been doing it a bit longer and offer it on multiple days. We’ll be looking at that approach as a possibility in the future.”

She explained “when there are 1,000 students you have to say ‘no’ to, that is too many.”

Options to look at include offering the festival for more days in a row or offer the program a couple of times each year.