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‘What they’re doing is carrying on a tradition’

Students at Pictou Landing First Nation Elementary School build and launch the community’s newest fleet of dories

By 1 p.m. on June 7 the fog that lay thick over most of Pictou County had finally been rolled back past Pictou’s stretch of Northumberland Strait shoreline.

A perfect day for a boat launch.

“Normally we’d be doing literacy class right now,” explained 11-year-old Evan Beadle. “But now we’re doing something we really enjoy.”

Beadle, along with his peers at Pictou Landing First Nation Elementary School have, for the last three days, been working on a school project that lets them play with power tools and ends with a trip to the beach.

“I’ve been building boats for 40 years, and every time we have a launch day it’s been sunny.” Eamonn Doorly is a shipwright and assistant curator of small craft with the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

He may be an old hand at boat building, but this is only his second year at Pictou Landing First nation. It’s all part of an experiential learning program facilitated by Doorley, PLFN, and professor Shane Theunissen, who teaches Child and Youth studies at Mount Saint Vincent University.

And even though the students were building boats, they were still practicing literacy.

“Little do they know they’re doing this with their diaries,” said Lacy Colombe who teaches the school’s Grade 6 class.

In between the hours of work and regularly scheduled lunch breaks the twelve students in Grades 5 and 6 were seated at desks that were set up in a circle around their work area inside the school gymnasium, and quietly journaling about their accomplishments so-far and about the tasks to come.

The two flat-bottomed dories these students have made will join a growing fleet of water-craft built through this program.

“We’ll do the same thing next year and the school will have six boats to incorporate into their programming,” said Theunissen. “They’ll be used to let students access the world around them, to go out on the land and experience the context which for millennia shaped the knowledge that was created in that context.”

One day before, on June 6 the students were busy sanding down their boats’ exterior and preparing to add the bench seating inside while discussing the importance of symmetry in boat-building and trusting their eye’s intuitive sense of when something looks right, or is maybe just a bit off.

PLFN elder Ralf Francis has been visiting the students each day for the last three days. On June 7, he was with the students, teachers and other community leaders watching the two flat-bottomed dories take to the water.

“Everyone used to have a boat like that. What they’re doing is carrying on a tradition,” said Francis. “This teaches them a little bit of carpentry, but it’s just good for their self-esteem so when they move onto other things they’ll remember how good of a job they did down here and it’ll transfer to whatever they do next.”

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