Rooted in Tradition: How Dream Brokers Created a Medicinal Plant Teaching Project

By: Scott Stelmaschuk April, 2021

Looking for a way to engage students safely in cultural activity, a Dream Broker in Prince Albert came up with an innovative medicinal plant project for students at W. J Berezowsky Public School. Learning about medicinal plants provides an opportunity for students to connect to their Indigenous heritage.

The Dream Brokers program, which is dedicated to sustaining the involvement and participation of inner­city children and youth in sports, culture and recreation activities and programs in the province, was particularly interested in finding ways to increase culture­based activities that would appeal to students of Indigenous heritage.

“First Nations traditional medicine has healed people in the past and it has been a part of the First Nations circle of life,” says Neru Franc, Dream Broker Consultant. “The land is where food, medicine, clothing, tools, etc. came from. Teaching students about the land in which they live, and what they can harvest from the land to help themselves is part of their culture. First Nations students will hopefully gain a newfound respect for their home, and throughout the teachings, possibly fuel a desire to learn more about themselves and their culture.”

The program reached out to Elder Liz Settee from Peguis First Nations in Manitoba, to fulfil the cultural aspect of the project. “Aboriginal students today are so far from understanding themselves, that they need reconnection with culture. These teachings will go with the different medicines, so knowledge is passed on from one generation to another. Once they start learning about medicine, it may spark a fire within to learn more about their culture and who they are,” says Settee. “Medicinal teachings helped fuel my desire to learn more about my culture and who I am.”

While school closures due to COVID­19 posed some additional challenges at the start of the project, “It has been a challenge setting the tents up,” says Franc. “While students were away online learning before and after Christmas, everyone took time to familiarize themselves with the tents and gained an understanding of how they functioned.” In addition, a few staff members are now taking a horticultural class to gain more experience for this project and future projects. “That’s commitment!” remarks Franc.

Despite the challenges, students have connected well with the project. “The hands­on experience of seeding and caring for their plants has been essential to their learning,” says Franc. “This activity has been welcomed with curiosity and excitement. Students can check the progress of their plants regularly as each classroom involved in the project has their own growing tent. The great thing about having their own tent is it keeps them engaged and participation is strong.”

In addition to the hands­on experience, Franc sees a tremendous benefit in the additional lessons and knowledge imparted by Elder Settee. “My hope is that this program has a lasting impact on our students and they will continue to use the many life lessons spoken by Elder Liz Settee that may not have necessarily been taught at home or in the community,” she says. “I feel this activity will reduce barriers between the many cultures in our school with students developing an understanding and respect for each other. I hope the teachings and what they have to offer the body, mind and spirit impacts our students by strengthening their respect for the land on which we live as well as respect for themselves. Programs like this reduce the stigma associated with First Nations culture and strengthens our school and community.”

The Dream Brokers Program is supported through a partnership between SaskCulture, Sask Sport and the Saskatchewan Parks Recreation Association, thanks to funding from Sask Lotteries.