Guest Blogger Debra Barron – former Director of Curriculum and Instruction of Elk Island Schools reminds us about the importance of retaining our connection to the land, the spirit of Wahkotowin, and the collective memory of the history of names.
Thank you for your contribution Deb!
As the Director of Instructional Services with Elk Island Public Schools, I had the privilege of leading our First Nations, Métis, Inuit education and support team. We were very fortunate to have built a relationship with Elder Wilson Bearhead from whom we often sought advice and guidance. The generous way in which he shared his wisdom and teachings will resonate with me for many years to come.
As we sat in circle one day, Elder Wilson asked our team a question. He wanted us to tell him why our Division was named “Elk Island”. Elder Wilson had always taught us the importance of knowing our personal stories, but he clearly was sharing another lesson with us. Yes, we need to know our own story, but we should also know the story about where we work and play. “We must be able to name where we come from and who our people are in all aspects of our lives. By knowing this, we then have a better understanding of who we are and who we can be.”
I began to research the reason why “Elk Island” is named as such and was very grateful for what I learned. The story is both poignant and significant for each of us; I believe I became a better educator, parent, and human being as I began to know and understand.
This is our story:
In the center of what is now known as Elk Island National Park, is Astotin Lake. The lake is dotted with small islands, one of which is called Elk Island. Parks Canada reports Elk Island is the place female elk swim to give birth. Why the island? It is a place free of predators; a place where a mother elk knows her calf will have safe entry into the world and where it can grow and learn without worry or anxiety. Once the calf grows strong, both mother and offspring swim back to the mainland secure in the knowledge that each can fend for themselves in the great forest.
Our school division chose to use “Elk Island” as our name because we believe we too are an island where children are meant to be safe and carefully nurtured from a young age until they are old enough to swim out and into their own lives. We are a haven of learning and of connection. We are an island within a forest where teaching, leading and mentoring make a difference, and where every living being matters.
As we head into this school year, remember the Elk Island story, your story, our story. Challenge yourself to do everything in your power to ensure your school, your classroom, your office, your heart is an “Elk Island” for our young ones. Let your work ensure our young people can eventually swim away from Elk Island Public Schools prepared to deal with whatever the forest brings. Let our story guide us, teach us, and, best of all, let our story make a difference for our kids.
We give thanks to Elder Bearhead for teaching us the importance of knowing our story.