The centre focuses on ecologically-based programming, with students engaging in subjects such as science, social studies, art, physical education, and language, while out on the land.
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At the Brightwater Science, Environmental, and Indigenous Learning Centre, they recognize that there is more to learning than sitting in a classroom. “You can teach kids in a classroom about the world around them, but it is abstract until they get to touch and see. For example, you can teach kids about soil and show them pictures, but contrast that with digging in dirt and seeing the life that is in soil,” says Project Leader Samantha Gunn.

The centre, run through Saskatoon Public Schools, focuses on ecologically based programming. Students engage in subjects such as science, social studies, art, physical education and language, while out on the land.

One of the centre’s major features is the food forest garden, an interdisciplinary learning space about regenerative agriculture, food security and ecology. “The idea behind the food forest is that you create an edible ecosystem. Principles of permaculture help you plan how to improve the health of the landscape, while you feed yourself,” Gunn explains.

A deer sculpture made of deadfall wood.

A deer sculpture made by participants in Kevin Quinlan's workshops.

Photo by Kevin Quinlan.

She says that incorporating artistic and playful elements into the food forest’s design was essential. In contrast with most ecological sites, where visitors are told not to touch anything, the centre wanted to create a place where people feel free to explore.

An Artists in Schools Development grant enabled the centre to collaborate with Saskatoon sculptor Kevin Quinlan and Cree language teacher Trevor Iron to create a larger-than-life white-tailed deer sculpture in the food forest. They engaged with a Cree immersion class from Confederation Park School to incorporate language, visual art and science into the students’ growing bond with the landscape.

Quinlan taught the students to sculpt deer out of masking tape. “That gave everybody a chance to experience sculpture on a small scale before we went to the large scale,” he says. The students then gathered wood and caragana shrub deadfall, tying pieces together with hemp twine to create the sculpture, which they named the Cree word for “deer.” Using natural materials ensures the piece is part of the ecosystem, as it will biodegrade over time and add nutrients to the food forest.

“We tied a lot of sticks together to create the sculpture,” says Quinlan. “That’s a really accessible medium for kids. They could do something like that on their own. All they have to be able to do is tie a bow, and they’re ready to go.”

The sculpture is already inspiring others. “As soon as the deer went up, another group came and wanted to do it with their class!” Gunn says. “Now that we know how to make the sculpture, we want to make two more.” The goal is that students will begin to use the materials around them to create sustainable sculptures in their own schoolyards and neighbourhoods.