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A Luxton School teacher's incorporation of Indigenous knowledge in the classroom caught the attention of Mayor Brian Bowman.
Sarah Martens, who teaches Grades 4 and 5 at Luxton, kicked off the school year by having her students create a medicine wheel, an Indigenous symbol which represents the interaction of one's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components.
CTV News Winnipeg posted a story on Martens and her medicine wheel initiative on Sept. 21. On Oct. 13, Martens arrived at Luxton to find an envelope in her mailbox from the Mayor's Office at City Hall.
"I kind of freaked out a little bit. I wasn't expecting it at all. It was so nice," said Martens of the letter. "It was addressed to me, but Mayor Bowman talked about my students in it as well. I read it out to them and they were so excited. They were clapping and one of them was like 'This is amazing!'
"We put the letter in a frame on the wall next to the medicine wheel. I also photocopied it so they could take it home to show their parents."
Martens, who is Métis, said the medicine wheel serves as an alternative to the usual classroom codes of conduct.
"Usually on the first day or two of school you create a class list of rules or expectations for the room," Martens said. "I decided instead of a class list of rules that we would look into the meaning of the medicine wheel and how all four parts work together. If we're taking care of our minds, bodies, spirits and hearts, then we should have a healthy class."
According to Martens, 15 of the 21 students in her classroom are Indigenous. She said most of her class had seen the medicine wheel symbol before, but not many knew what it represented.
"We watched a little video explaining the four parts of the medicine wheel," Martens said. "Then I had them write in their journals some ideas of things they could do at school to take care of themselves under each category. We had a class discussion where they all shared what they came up with."
"I made poster charts to feed their ideas forward and we decided as a class where their ideas best fit. I think that's where it really clicked for them. They could see that some of their ideas could fit in all four categories. That's where they really saw how it all fit together."
Martens thought her pupils might have a problem coming up with examples for the Spirit portion of the medicine wheel, but that was not the case.
"It's the most abstract, but the examples they came up with were pretty impressive for that one," she said.
Martens said she had been thinking about creating a class medicine wheel for a couple years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-2021 school year seemed like the perfect time to do it.
"Obviously it's a stressful and anxious time for everyone," Martens said. "We talked as a staff during the first few admin days about how we really wanted to focus on student's social and emotional wellbeing, so that's one reason why I chose to do it this year."
Funnily enough, just before Martens received the letter from Mayor Bowman, his name had come up in class.
"We had just done a lesson the day before talking about who is in charge of our city, our province and our country," Marten said. "When I got the letter they were like, 'Which Brian?'
"Then they were like, 'What if Justin Trudeau sees this?' It created a lot excitement."