DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence

Totems, Button Blankets, and Potential: DAREarts Vancouver, Day Four

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Post written by DAREarts Lead Teacher & Director of Urban Programs, Geneviève Anthony.


What do a butterfly, a hummingbird, a turtle, a beaver and a wolf have in common?

To the DAREarts Vancouver group, these animals best demonstrate the DAREarts values that they each identify with the most.

Elder Mary Jane Joe from the Interior Coastal Salish Nation of Ntle’kepmx was our honoured guest today. She took the children through the history of the traditional button blanket. Originally made of cedar and a variety of hides, the material evolved into wool blankets once European Traders from the Hudson Bay Company came to the region.  The button blanket is a part of the regalia of the Haida, Nisga’a, Tsimshian and Tlingit Nations. The crests and images, created with buttons, identify one’s clan.

Elder Mary Jane Joe inspires the children through tradition.
Photo courtesy of Kjersten Saude.
A clan is something someone is born into: one’s extended family. One’s clan animal carries the legacy of where one came from, the challenges one’s ancestors overcame and therefore the present spirit that will journey into the future. The paths of our ancestors inspires us forward, enabling us to overcome our grief and trials; to heal ourselves from within. Our grandparents and great-grandparents live within us as they pass on their strength and wisdom through our parents, aunts and uncles. Many of our children are First Nations, so a number of them already identified with an animal on the totem, such as an eagle or a bear. However, Aboriginal Culture accepts that if one is deeply affected by the strength of another clan, one is permitted to take on the new totem animal.

With the DAREarts experience being tremendously special and life changing, the delegates were able to combine their own heritage and legacies with the DARE values. In groups, the students drew incredible sketches of an animal that they collectively identified with. They chose one that they felt represented the value they cherished. From there they transferred their image onto huge pieces of red, white, black or yellow felt. Using an array of buttons they then accented and detailed their image as a full team. One student threaded a needle while another glued the image, another student cut, while another chose the ‘perfect’ button placement. The class worked calmly and enjoyed the risk of working with someone from another school as well as a different gender.

The students step up to the challenge of transforming strangers into friends.
Photo courtesy of Kjersten Saude.
With the passing of each precious DAREarts day, our leaders are stretching and growing to redefine themselves and how others see them. To witness their energy and commitment to themselves is inspiring. We see their potential. We know they can achieve their dreams but for them, the path remains long.

When asked to choose a posture of their personal leadership self, some adjusted their eyes and stood slightly straighter. But, when asked to adopt the stance of what they thought a leader they respected looked like, most straightened their postures, lifted their chins, pulled their shoulders back and spread their feet. Identity, leadership and community are big concepts that challenge even an adult to search deep for the truth. Responsibility is being thrust upon our youth and for many it is overwhelming. Fortunately at DAREarts we have the fun and enjoyment of the arts, animals and Button Blankets to make this trying quest palatable.
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