Children from Nuu-chah-nulth Nations spent less time learning about salmon from books and more time viewing them in their native habitat this fall thanks to a partnership between schools, Uu-a-thluk, and the Raincoast Education Society (RES). Aimed at bringing culturally appropriate science content to kids, the partnership incorporated Nuu-chah-nulth teachings into salmon education for more than 200 children.

“The kids are really responding to what they’re hearing,” said Kim Johnston, Education Coordinator for the Tofino-based organization who delivers the program. “This is partly thanks to the pilot materials produced by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council… which are very closely inspired by the [DFO-based] Salmonids-in-the-Classroom curriculum.”

Using Nuu-chah-nulth words and stories, the NTC pilot materials add a Nuu-chah-nulth element to the standard salmon curriculum. The program led by Johnston also includes visits to streams, rivers, and hatcheries where children can see salmon in different phases of their life cycles.

“Previously when we visited communities it was a onetime visit. It was suggested that we do a follow up—one phase in the fall…and another in January,” Johnston said.

Getting outdoors at different times of year helps children see changes in salmon first hand. It also helps them learn concepts they might not get in the classroom. “The connection between our forests and our oceans was a real ‘aha’ moment for lots of kids,” Johnston said. “That link is really important.”

To date Johnston has taken the program to over five schools including Maaqtusiis, Haa-huu-payak, Ray Watkins Elementary, Captain Meares Elementary, and Ucluelet Secondary. She hopes to squeeze in a visit to Zeballos in the New Year.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Chris Cooper, a teacher from Ray Watkins Elementary School in Gold River. Cooper’s grade seven class visited the Conuma Hatchery as part of the program.  Here they witnessed controlled egg fertilization with descriptions by a biologist. A classroom workshop by Johnston followed the field trip.  

“The session was all hands-on, which means a lot,” Cooper said.

Rebecca Miller, a grade five teacher at Maaqtusiis School in Ahoushat, agreed. “The students had a wonderful time exploring for themselves the terrain of a salmon spawn site… The program has brought to life, in a tangible way, the importance of the salmon spawn, in a much larger context than what most of the students were aware of before.”

Miller also liked the cultural content. “This program has enriched the grade five’s understanding of the relationship between themselves as Nuu-chah-nulth people and the integral role salmon play in their lives in a variety of forms… Learning from people who specialize in the natural environment presented the information in a way that simply would not have been the same without their expertise.”

The salmon education programs will continue into 2012 and will feature a salmon symposium for youth.