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The teachings of the bison return to Sunnyside School

Students at Sunnyside School are learning some of the traditional teachings of the First Nations peoples who once prospered in what we now call the community of Sunnyside. Students at Sunnyside School are learning some of the traditional teachings of the First Nations peoples who once prospered in what we now call the community of Sunnyside.

Students at Sunnyside School have been learning more about the land on which their 102 year old school resides. This semester, in partnership with Indigenous leaders and the parent council, Sunnyside students had the opportunity to learn some of the traditional teachings of the First Nation's peoples that once prospered in what we now call the community of Sunnyside.

The creative learning project culminated this week with each of the students painting a laser-cut wooden-bison; a personal representation of what the lessons meant to them. 

Dozens of colourful, hand-painted bison now line the southern fence of Sunnyside School. The student-made public artwork is more than just decorative, it's historic.

Tiffany Freeman, one of the parent council members at Sunnyside school told CTV News that it all began with the 100 year anniversary of Sunnyside school in 2019, “In that process, the kids learned so much about this community and in learning that they found some really interesting facts about Sunnyside as a community," Freeman said.

Sunnyside School in Calgary

One of the lessons that was touched upon in social studies for each of the kindergarten though grades six students was how McHugh Bluff was once used as a traditional buffalo jump. Freeman said, “This area in which we live used to be a big gathering place for the traditional Indigenous peoples of this land, and also other Indigenous peoples from the prairies would come here as a gathering space."

In the classrooms, students learned that for many Indigenous cultures including those in what we now call Treaty 7, the bison is an important animal.

“The bison teaches us about standing in our own power. And I think for children, that's really important.," Freeman said.  “The bison were not only just this really significant food source, but also spiritual teachers and guides to the Indigenous people here."


Trudi Tallerico, principal at Sunnyside School says the entire school was excited to be involved in the project, “We were very excited to ourselves know more about it and to share that information with our students, so teachers began to incorporate those kinds of social studies outcomes into the work of the bison and really understanding the Sunnyside community.”

Tallerico said in learning about and then making the painted bison cut-outs “These students found this project to be very meaningful, they really took up the symbolism of what the buffalo represented and the teachings we got from the buffalo and embraced that.”

Creating and displaying the artwork and the teachings behind it was made possible with the support of the University of Calgary, who supplied the laser cut bison and local artist Daniel Kirk who oversaw the preparation and installation. 

Kirk helped to create a video that was shared with the students which included lessons on colour theory as well as the traditional meanings of the colors that they were given. “We provided all the students with the three primary colors, and then white and black. So that gave them an ample color palette to use, mix and create their own bison.”

Each student was supplied with the paints and ready to go bison shaped canvas made from primed plywood and were free to express themselves and what they had learned.

“It was pretty exciting for us, we put them out there just as these blank primed ready to go canvases, and each individual student was able to express something, you can see the sort of the great diversity. And I think that speaks very much to the diversity of every individual.”  Kirk said. “Every student has their own way of reflecting on some of these traditional teachings, as well as their own place within it and we were really excited to see it all come together.”


Bison art made by students at Sunnyside School

The bison are on display for all to see and Freeman encourages everyone who walks by to first enjoy the colourful works of art, but also to perhaps reflect, “As an Indigenous person myself, I'm mixed Nêyihaw (Cree) my family comes from Treaty 1 territory Peguis Nation, it's been really important for my own children to be learning about their cultural identity, and through that process themselves finding others in their community that also are educated as well.” Freeman said. “It helps to create more understanding about diversity, but also to further reconciliation, giving honor and gratitude and also understanding about the people who are still the traditional people that still live on this land.”

Freeman finished by saying “We often talk about the things of the past, this bison project I think helps them connect to the future as well, that there are still traditional Indigenous people of Treaty 7 that are here and we want to make sure that we're honoring them and respecting them, as I say, we're guests upon this land.” Top Stories

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