It was a peaceful day at the docks beside the wharf in Salmon Arm, gulls flying overhead, a little cloud cover keeping the sun’s rays from overpowering.
“Got a fish!”
Suddenly the excited cry grabbed the attention of students while a teacher ran over with a net to help.
For Indigenous People’s month, Shuswap Middle School students could be seen at the wharf over the course of three weeks, trying their hand at fishing. The program, run by Indigenous education workers Theresa Johnson and Kaeli Hawrys, sees every Grade 6, 7 and 8 class come to the wharf and spend an hour-and-a-half fishing from the docks. That’s a total of 650 students.
“Kids love it and teachers love it. So many of them comment it’s one of their favourite activities of the whole year. Often they’ll plan going around the bird sanctuary or doing other things in conjunction with this day,” said Johnson enthusiastically on June 10, one of the last three days of fishing for the program this year.
All the students asked said they were enjoying their time at Salmon Arm Bay.
Mallory Ewert said her favourite part was catching and releasing fish.
Graydon Cowles described fishing as fun.
“It can be pretty relaxing for a lot of people and I just think it’s a good experience.”
He hadn’t had a bite yet while Mallory had hooked a small fish that got off the line.
Johnson explained that she and Hawrys always try and offer experiences that get kids out on the land.
“Learning through doing, also through those kinds of generational teachings. Not all kids have a chance to go fishing. So many kids catch a fish down here for the very first time. And it’s also learning when they land those fish; we have caught now six different species of fish.”
She said their catches have included sucker fish, northern pike minnow and, on June 9, for the first time since she started running the program four years ago, they caught a trout.
When each fish is caught, a teacher is there to help the student get the fish on the dock and remove the hook. Then the student gets a quick photo with their fish and it’s returned to the water in a gentle way.
Johnson said it’s about learning through experience, in hopes of passing on love and respect for nature.
“It’s really great because even if they don’t catch a fish they’re out in nature where they can look at the birds’ nests underneath the dock. They’re just looking at all the different kinds of wildlife we have down there.”
This year, as of June 10, Mr. Lynka’s class had caught the most fish, with 18 in total, Johnson said. That was despite having only 45 minutes to fish.
Abigael Fletcher caught a fish that put up a bit of a fight. She said she used to go fishing with her dad a lot.
“It’s the first one in about four or five years, so it’s actually awesome… It was a pretty good size.”
For Indigenous students in Grade 8, this time of year is also when they make a medicine pouch.
Johnson and Hawrys talk about the four sacred medicines and how traditionally this would have been an age with a rite of passage. They would have gone up onto a mountain or some kind of vision quest.
“We don’t live traditionally anymore but people in their community would have had celebrations for them when they got back and in that time they would have figured out where their place in the community would be,” Johnson said.
When the education workers make the pouches with the students, “we tell them we hope they always remember how significant they are…”
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