A Deeper Understanding of First Nations Culture

gr6_fieldtripby Angelina, Grade 6

On Tuesday, November 5th, the Grade 6 Humanities classes had the opportunity to visit the Royal BC Museum with Leslie McGarry. A part of the Grade 6 curriculum is culture, so it made sense that Leslie would come to talk to us about the customs and traditions of the First Nations peoples.

“I was amazed by how much the First Nations were connected to – and respected – the wild.”

We began the tour on the third floor in the First Peoples Galleries, starting in a replica of a longhouse. Everything was constructed from large cedar planks, and large, carefully carved totem poles cast shadows over the flickering logs in the center of the longhouse. Masks were also on display, staring longingly at the stage as if wishing they could come alive with dancers. Leslie explained the customs of the potlatch, a gathering held by the chief of a village to mark a significant event in the community, such as a birth, death or marriage.

Next, we saw a dugout house in which some of the First Nations lived. These houses were dug by the women and logs were placed on top by the men. The dugouts had beds and areas for storage of tools and personal items. Leslie explained how one would enter the house by climbing onto the roof, and descending a ladder that went through the smoke-hole and into the house. The real houses were actually two to three times larger than the replica we saw, and could provide a shelter for up to 30 people.

After, Leslie told us the various ways the First Nations people lived and survived, and about different aspects of their lifestyle. We learned the methods of catching fish, building canoes, killing whales, weaving baskets and making clothes from the hide of a moose or cedar bark. I never knew that blankets only belonged to chiefs because they took so long to make or that the different blankets signified the clan that that chief belonged to. I was amazed by how much the First Nations were connected to – and respected – the wild.

Next, we visited the area that revealed what life for the First Nations was like after contact with European explorers. Dyed porcupine quills on clothes as decoration became glass beads. More high-quality materials were available to the First Nations, although not everything the Europeans brought had a good impact on the First Nations.

We also looked at various masks and totem poles, each with its own special story embedded in the flawlessly carved wood, unique in its own way. Every mask had its own traditions, myths, and beliefs attached, and every story had been passed down through generations of First Nations, since they had no written language.

Overall, the trip to the museum helped develop a deeper understanding of culture, and exploring the ways of the people who lived on Vancouver Island for thousands of years. Leslie gave us a window into an amazing culture, and my classmates and I enjoyed learning about this different way of life. This trip really opened my eyes to the incredible, intricate history that is just beneath the surface of British Columbia, a completely different world from the one we know today. This was an amazing experience that gave me a more in-depth idea of what Vancouver Island was like, long ago.

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