Students painted species at risk in Saskatchewan as part of a mural project that taught them about conservation. (Photo by NCC)

Students painted species at risk in Saskatchewan as part of a mural project that taught them about conservation. (Photo by NCC)

Indigenous artist leads mural project that teaches about species at risk

“The first thing they will ask is ‘what is it,’ and then you begin to tell the story,” says artist Michael Lonechild on teaching children

Harvey Littlechief painted the endangered piping plover for the mural project. (Photo by NCC)

Harvey Littlechief painted the endangered piping plover for the mural project. (Photo by NCC)

The well-known indigenous artist Michael Lonechild believes art is a great path to education. Lonechild worked with students at White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan to paint a mural of species at risk.

“The first thing they will ask is ‘what is it,’ and then you begin to tell the story,” Lonechild said.

Each student had a different species at risk to paint, and in the end all of their work came together to make one giant mural. As they painted each species, they also learned about it.

The art project was through Learning the Land (LTL), a partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Treaty 4 Education Alliance, which teaches conservation by merging western science and traditional indigenous knowledge.

The students admitted they didn’t know a lot about species at risk before the project.

“I didn’t know the monarch butterfly was in trouble,” said Harvey Littlechief, a Grade 9 student.

Littlechief was tasked with painting the piping plover, an endangered bird found on beaches and near wetlands. He remembered his uncle telling him he had seen one.

“I wondered why they were so ecstatic about seeing one,” he said. So during the project, he asked his uncle about it.

“He told me how it looked and how beautiful it was…I just kept that consideration.”

Lonechild is happy to help plant the seed of being conservation-minded. Even if the students don’t learn a lot right now, he hopes it will encourage them to learn more.

“I think if you made them aware of it, as they get older, they kind of realize what’s happening.”

Mystique Bigstone, a Grade 8 student at the school, feels the same way about the mural project. She hopes putting it up in the school will inspire the other students.

“I hope that they would try to learn more about the species that are at risk,” she said.

LTL is supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk, and the Province of Saskatchewan’s First Nations Community Engagement Project Fund.

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