‘Got a fish!’: Favourite sound at Indigenous-led program for Shuswap school

Student Abigael Fletcher lands a fish June 10, 2022 at the docks at Marine Peace Park as part of a fishing program for Shuswap Middle School students put on each year by Indigenous education workers Theresa Johnson and Kaeli Hawrys as part of Indigenous History Month. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)Student Abigael Fletcher lands a fish June 10, 2022 at the docks at Marine Peace Park as part of a fishing program for Shuswap Middle School students put on each year by Indigenous education workers Theresa Johnson and Kaeli Hawrys as part of Indigenous History Month. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap Middle School student Dayne Mueller prepares to get a fish kiss after landing this one at the docks in Marine Peace Park in Salmon Arm on June 10, 2022. Indigenous Education Worker Theresa Johnson, who runs the fishing program with Kaeli Hawrys, looks on and student Luc Leslie captures the moment on camera. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)Shuswap Middle School student Dayne Mueller prepares to get a fish kiss after landing this one at the docks in Marine Peace Park in Salmon Arm on June 10, 2022. Indigenous Education Worker Theresa Johnson, who runs the fishing program with Kaeli Hawrys, looks on and student Luc Leslie captures the moment on camera. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap Middle School student Mohammed Alahmed grins as he holds a fish he caught at the docks at the Salmon Arm Wharf on June 10, 2022 as part of a school fishing program for Indigenous People’s month. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)Shuswap Middle School student Mohammed Alahmed grins as he holds a fish he caught at the docks at the Salmon Arm Wharf on June 10, 2022 as part of a school fishing program for Indigenous People’s month. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap Middle School student Aiden Haglund shows a sucker fish he caught at the docks in Marine Peace Park on June 10, 2022. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)Shuswap Middle School student Aiden Haglund shows a sucker fish he caught at the docks in Marine Peace Park on June 10, 2022. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap Middle School students Jadon Cox, Andrew Hagerman and Aiden Haglund wait out the fish at the docks at the Salmon Arm Wharf on June 10, 2022. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)Shuswap Middle School students Jadon Cox, Andrew Hagerman and Aiden Haglund wait out the fish at the docks at the Salmon Arm Wharf on June 10, 2022. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
On June 10, 2022, Mallory Ewert and Graydon Cowles enjoy the fishing experience provided for all Shuswap Middle School classes during Indigenous People’s month. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)On June 10, 2022, Mallory Ewert and Graydon Cowles enjoy the fishing experience provided for all Shuswap Middle School classes during Indigenous People’s month. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)

It was a peaceful day at the docks beside the wharf in Salmon Arm, gulls flying overhead, a little cloud cover keeping the sun’s rays from overpowering.

“Got a fish!”

Suddenly the excited cry grabbed the attention of students while a teacher ran over with a net to help.

For Indigenous History Month, Shuswap Middle School students could be seen at the wharf over the course of three weeks, trying their hand at fishing.

The program, run by Indigenous education workers Theresa Johnson and Kaeli Hawrys, sees every Grade 6, 7 and 8 class come to the wharf and spend an hour-and-a-half fishing from the docks. That’s a total of 650 students.

“Kids love it and teachers love it. So many of them comment it’s one of their favourite activities of the whole year. Often they’ll plan going around the bird sanctuary or doing other things in conjunction with this day,” said Johnson enthusiastically.

All the students asked said they were enjoying their time at Salmon Arm Bay.

Graydon Cowles described fishing as fun.

“It can be pretty relaxing for a lot of people and I just think it’s a good experience.”

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Johnson explained that she and Hawrys always try and offer experiences that get kids out on the land.

“Learning through doing, also through those kinds of generational teachings. Not all kids have a chance to go fishing. So many kids catch a fish down here for the very first time. And it’s also learning when they land those fish; we have caught now six different species of fish.”

She said their catches have included sucker fish, northern pike minnow and, on June 9, for the first time since she started running the program four years ago, they caught a trout.

When each fish is caught, a teacher is there to help the student get the fish on the dock and remove the hook. Then the student gets a quick photo with their fish and it’s returned to the water in a gentle way.

Johnson said it’s about learning through experience, in hopes of passing on love and respect for nature.

Abigael Fletcher caught a fish that put up a bit of a fight. She said she used to go fishing with her dad a lot.

“It’s the first one in about four or five years, so it’s actually awesome… It was a pretty good size.”

For Indigenous students in Grade 8, this time of year is also when they make a medicine pouch.

Johnson and Hawrys talk about the four sacred medicines and how traditionally this would have been an age with a rite of passage. The youths would have gone up onto a mountain or some kind of vision quest.

“We don’t live traditionally anymore but people in their community would have had celebrations for them when they got back and in that time they would have figured out where their place in the community would be,” Johnson said.

When the teachers make the pouches with the students, “we tell them we hope they always remember how significant they are.”


martha.wickett@saobserver.net
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