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Reflections on MOA Digital School Programs

I have visited the Museum of Anthropology at UBC for many years on my own, wandering through the halls and exhibits, marveling at the ingenuity, beauty and intricacy of the First Nations cultural belongings on display. The opportunity to not only gaze upon these belongings, but to quietly listen to what they have to say about the hands that created them is a privilege I am grateful for. Being able to pass on this opportunity to students has been a pleasure.

The experience of visiting MOA has been invaluable for my students, deepening their understanding of the First Nations who have lived on and shaped these lands since time immemorial. In past years, the distance and cost of getting to MOA limited our class visits to once a year. The arrival of COVID-19 disrupted this pattern, and maybe, unexpectedly, for the better. In the 2020–2021 school year, we were able to “visit” three times—through MOA’s new digital school programs.

We were able to scaffold our learning over the course of three online programs, facilitated by volunteers in the MOA Education and LOA (Laboratory of Archaeology) teams. In Cedar: Tree of Life, students were first taught about cedar harvesting and its utility in so many different areas of life, from food gathering, to clothing, to celebrations and gifts. From there, during the Archaeology of the Lower Fraser River program, we learned in greater detail about the intricacies of traditional hunting and fishing tools and their central place in community life. Lastly, my class engaged with the history and ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, practiced historically and today. Reflecting on the 1884–1951 potlatch ban imposed by the Canadian government, we devoted much time to unpacking what it must feel like to have something so important and vital taken away.

One of the lasting impacts of our virtual sessions was in the language communicated to students to represent the belongings housed in the MOA Collection. For instance, these cultural belongings have been labelled by non-Indigenous people as “artifacts.” Coupled with the Grade 4 Social Studies emphasis on the early history of BC, this type of language has made it hard to really communicate that the cultures my students are engaging with are current, living, and not confined to the annals of history. The intentional framing of these cultural items as belonging to a Nation absolutely changed how my students interacted with and viewed not only the works themselves, but the people who create and own them.

These poems and sketches of belongings in the MOA Collection were created by my students. They reflect their learning experience through the three programs we were privileged to be a part of. We hope you enjoy.

Poems and sketches by Grade 4 students at Surrey Christian School.

This collective piece was inspired by Marvin Oliver’s (Quinault/Isleta-Pueblo) serigraph, Spawning Salmon. Each student was given a small square, then asked to enlarge it to create a larger artwork as a community.


Learn more about MOA’s digital school programs here.