Lesson One: Discovering the Change of Seasons
Changing of seasons has dictated and governed the movement of Aboriginal People in Canada since time immemorial. It is important that students learn how the changing of seasons affected Aboriginal lifestyle as this cultural group traditionally depended upon activities such as: hunting (buffalo, deer, and antelope in the south; moose, elk, caribou, and deer in the north; geese and ducks in both south and north); fishing (trout, whitefish, and pickerel); trapping (beaver, rabbit, ground squirrels); gathering wild plants and berries (wild rice, Saskatoon berries, chokecherries, blueberries) for survival.
Canada is broken up into different regions and eco-systems that dictated the lifestyles and livelihood of the various Aboriginal groups residing there. In the North, Dene and Anishinabe Nations resided in the Shield Region that contained mixed forests, an abundance of lakes, shallow soil, and cold winters. However, in the Central Parkland Regions where the Cree and Blackfoot lived, there were rivers, rolling hills, and deciduous trees. The Southern portion of Canada known as the Plains Region was home to Cree, Blackfoot, and Sioux Nations. It is characterized by grasslands, flat prairie, dry conditions, and plenty of buffalo.
Aboriginal groups always knew that their lives were closely tied to the land and nature, and they knew that their survival depended on their ability to live and work in harmony with what could be provided from the land. Undoubtedly, the changing of seasons affected wildlife and plant life in manners significant enough to impact that of Aboriginal Peoples. Different Aboriginal cultures evolved from the different environments they found themselves in. The worldview of Aboriginal culture in Canada is imbedded in their belief and reverence for Mother Nature. Maintaining a balance in nature frequently emerges as a major theme in stories of the many Aboriginal Peoples and Nations across Canada.
Students should be able to make the connection between how the changing of seasons affects animals and plant life as well as human beings.
Most First Nations of Canada lived mainly from hunting and fishing. They migrated seasonally to get food. They did not wander aimlessly. They moved their camps from season to season to specific places and areas where they knew there would be food. In one season, they would hunt large animals; in another they would fish; in the fall they would gather berries, and so on. The only farming people were the Iroquois and Hurons, as well as other related tribes, in what is now southern Ontario.
Seasonal migration was a continuous pattern, with each group following the same pattern each year, according to the natural cycles of the plants and animals. Members of each clan usually came together in a big gathering at least once a year.
Because the regular seasonal pattern of life and movement of the animals and people was a continuous pattern, like a circle with no beginning and no end, the circle became a sacred symbol for First Nations people. The seasonal pattern represents the circle of life and renewal.
The circle is an important symbol in Aboriginal culture as it represents interconnectedness, equality, and continuity. Circles are non-hierarchal and inclusive, and are one of the main tenants of Aboriginal worldview and belief systems. Circles are found throughout nature. For instance, the sun and seasons start in the east and move clockwise to the south, west, and north.
Ask students to identify all of the circles that they notice in nature. Weather permitting you may wish to take your students outside or perhaps have them look at the school windows.
Following the above exercise you will need to download the Four Seasons Chart and print off enough copies for your students. Note: if you have younger students you may omit this step.
Begin the lesson by asking students to identify the seasons. Using the white board or poster board (which is a more permanent tangible learning aid) divide the board into four even squares and write the name of each season at the top of each box. Ask the students to describe each season in three or four words and record their responses. Students should copy these descriptions onto their own sheets. Younger students may wish to illustrate each box instead of writing down descriptive words.
Write the following list beside the Four Seasons Chart. Ask students to hypothesize which of the following animals or plant life Aboriginal People hunted or gathered in each season. For example, Aboriginal People would NOT have gathered berries during the winter. Animals and plant life can be used more than once. Saskatoon berries
Follow up this exercise by reading one of the following stories to the students regarding Aboriginal interpretation of the seasons.
After the story ask students to identify similarities and differences between the Aboriginal perspectives on seasons and why they are important to their culture and the students own culture.