• By: OLM Staff

The Ottawa Art Gallery brings contemporary Indigenous arts into the classroom

All photos courtesy of the Ottawa Art Gallery

Just two weeks after announcing their new partnership with the Canadian Film Institute, the Ottawa Art Gallery continues to show signs of growth as they launch their publication and program, Contemporary Indigenous Arts in the Classroom, which aims to provide elementary and high school–level teachers with curriculum-linked lesson plans designed by contemporary Indigenous artists. The goal is to build students’ cultural competence and respect for diverse Indigenous peoples, while encouraging critical thinking about colonialism in Canada.

Each lesson plan gives step-by-step instructions and materials lists, and propose question topics for further reflection and class discussion. The lessons have been linked to the Ontario Arts Curriculum and may be adapted for use in other provinces or educational contexts outside of the classroom.

Contemporary Indigenous Arts in the Classroom is one of what we hope to be many sustainable contributions to the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada," says Alexandra Badzak, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Ottawa Art Gallery. "Through the lens of contemporary art and art-making we can discover the depth and complexities of Indigenous histories and cultures and, perhaps, shift the way we view the world.”

Ottawa-based Jaime Koebel (Métis, Cree) and Barry Ace (Anishinaabe) are two practicing artists who respond to contemporary experiences and maintain strong connections to their respective cultural teachings and relationships to the land. Experienced educators in their own right, Koebel and Ace have each developed an art lesson for the classroom based on the visual language of their creative practice and with specific framing questions in mind.

Artist Jaime Koebel  delivering her Superhero Plant Trading Cards workshop in a classroom

Koebel's Superhero Plant Trading Cards lesson is designed to teach elementary school–aged students about herbal medicines and the traditional uses of plants. Through this lesson children will learn to identify with the natural environment and develop an awareness for their being in the world. 

In a recent interview with the OAG, Koebel said, "Connecting these different types of skills to the plants really was a way for me to bring up the importance of their powers and a fun way to make traditional, Indigenous knowledge relevant. Having younger people see themselves in these plants and the powers that they wish they could have and finding that they exist in plants creates bit of empowerment."

As part of Visual artist Barry Ace's (Re)Mapping place project, high-school students learn about the role of maps in the colonial erasure of Indigenous peoples from Canada’s history. Ace hopes that students can deconstruct the map where they live and recreate it using symbols from their own cultural heritage and lived experiences.

Students work from Barry Ace’s (re)Mapping Place workshop

The publication, edited by OAG’s Head of Public, Educational and Community Programs Stephanie Nadeau, contains essays by David Garneau (Métis), Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Regina, and Wahsontiio Cross, an artist, art historian and art educator from Kahnawake Kanien’kehá:ka Territory in Quebec, as well as lesson plans, worksheets, artwork reproductions, sample student creations,  discussion points and lists of suggested further readings as resources.

The publication will be distributed through ABC Art Books Canada and available for purchase in the OAG Shop for $22. Contemporary Indigenous Arts in the Classroom is also accessible online.

Ottawa Art Gallery acknowledges funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario. Contemporary Indigenous Arts in the Classroom was also made possible by a grant from the Ottawa Community Foundation.

OAG is Ottawa municipal’s art gallery and cultural hub. Located in Ottawa’s downtown core, the expanded Gallery is a contemporary luminous cube designed by KPMB Architects and Régis Côté et associés.