Connecting with Indigenous History Through Art at Sandowne PS ArtsSmarts Program

For six weeks, art teacher Laurie Kraft and French teacher Janet Weber have worked collaboratively to give their students a unique learning experience.

Students are working in groups as they finish their latest project, leather medicine pouches.  Some students are punching holes in their small pieces of hide, and others are sewing pieces together. Their finished product will be a small pouch for students to keep a decorated stone inside.  

A decorated stone is shown with a leather pouch made by students at Sandowne PS participating in the ArtsSmarts program.

The students in the Grade 4 and 5 class at Sandowne Public School are participating in the ArtsSmarts Program. ArtsSmarts is a nation-wide initiative that introduces arts into academic programs. Locally, the program shows how the arts can play a valuable role in fostering equity and inclusion in classrooms and schools.

For Sandowne PS, their focus is learning about Truth and Reconciliation through art. Local Metis artist Kathryn Edgecombe has worked with students for six weeks, guiding them through projects ranging from storytelling using pictographs, making spirit shields and the medicine pouches.

“Whatever we are working on, I want it to be personal to the students,” said Edgecombe. When students were working on their spirit shields, Edgecombe encouraged them to be creative and include pictures and symbols that represented who they are. “It’s important for children to be able to relate things to themselves so they can see it in a bigger world,” said Edgecombe.

Olivia, a student in Ms. Weber’s class, decorated her spirit shield with rainbows, stars, rain, a canoe, her two cats, trees, bugs, a lake and an island to represent her cottage. “All of these are my favourite things,” she said. “I liked that we got to write who we are with pictures. When we make a mistake, we always have to start again, but with this, making a mistake was ok because it helped us learn different things.”

Students created their spirit shields as a visual representation of themselves.

For educators Kraft and Weber, the ArtsSmarts program is a great way to start incorporating an Indigenous focus into their lessons. Both educators have made curriculum connections through the ArtsSmarts program, enriching the learning experience for their students. When learning about pictograms, they looked at similarities between Egyptian hieroglyphics and rock drawings of the Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples. “Our Grade 5 Social Studies curriculum looks at the explorers that came before 1713, Cartier and Champlain, and the program is tying in nicely with what we are learning because when we learn about the development of the colonies, we need students to know what impact this had on Indigenous people,” said Weber.

The ArtsSmarts program enables schools and local artists to work together to design a program promoting equity and inclusion while making curriculum connections. At Sandowne PS, it has allowed both students and educators to broaden their knowledge of Indigenous peoples in an interactive and engaging way across different subjects.

“I want students to understand that Indigenous traditions are not dead, they are still alive and amongst us today,” said Edgecombe. “Seeing students make those connections in a personal way is why I participate in the ArtsSmarts program.”


Since 2008, ArtsSmarts Waterloo Region has completed 60 projects in schools involving 144 educators, 66 artists and over 3,000 students. ArtsSmarts Waterloo Region is a partnership between WRDSB, Idea Exchange and Cambridge Art Galleries.