Artist, educator, and scholar, Leah Fontaine connects deeply with her Dakota/Anishinaabe/Metis heritage. She has worked in the performing and visual arts for many years. Fontaine completed her Master of Arts (Native Studies) in 2010 with a thesis entitled, Spirit Menders: the Expression of Trauma in Art Practices by Manitoba Aboriginal Women Artists. She teaches in the School of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba and The Winnipeg Art Gallery. She completed her Bachelor of Education in 2017.

Ideas for the Classroom:  

1)  The Circle of Life-Activities

The Stars (Teaching Math through Star Quilts)

chi miigwech to the Star people who spread across the sky like specks of silver dust helping Grandmother Moon to light the darkness while acting as guides to safely get us home.

The Sun (Equinoxes and Summer Solstice-the Gnomon)

chi miigwech to our Grandfather, the Sun, who brings the light of a new day and is the source of all fires of life.

Grandmother Moon (Exploring the Night Sky through Storytelling/Narrative)

chi miigwech to our Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky and is acknowledged as the leader of all woman who regulates the movement of tides of which we measure time.

The Sky-Father (Storytelling-Sky Women and the Three Sisters)

chi miigwech to the air we breathe.

The Earth Mother (Photosynthesis)

chi miigwech to our Earth Mother, who nourishes and teaches us reciprocity by making us know that what we put into the ground is returned providing us with an understanding of relationships and interconnectedness.

The Four Winds (The Life Cycles of Corn)

chi miigwech to the four winds, the East, the South, the West and North.   We hear them with their moving inflections that assist us with the change of seasons and lifecycles of growth.

The Thunders (Water is Life-Activism)

chi miigwech to the Thunder Beings whose lightening and thundering voices bring to us the water that renews life and growth making the two legged understand the good things and acknowledging the return of animal and plant life.

We have come full circle.

2) Orienting Ourselves in the Circle

As the Three Sisters story illuminates, the circle of life is fundamental to the worldview of Indigenous peoples. It is all encompassing and helps us to orient ourselves in the world. In the Circle there are seven locales that represent the lifecycle of plants and their relationships within our ecosystems.

The first position is Those Above – the Sun our Grandfather, who provides energy to the growing green plants.

The second position is Those Below – the Earth our Mother, who sustains life itself.

These are followed by the four directions. (Click on the image to enlarge)

The Four Directions

Orientation to the Circle

Invite students to stand up and face north. How do we gure it out?

Once north is established, face south, east, and west.

What other directions are there? Up – Down – In – Out?

Groups work together to create a physical expression of the directions. Add sound to the movement.

Once the directions are established, invite students to move through the growth cycle and relationship of the ree Sisters. As groups share their work, we see the cycle from seed to fully grown plant repeated.

Individuals illustrate their understanding of the circle and the growth of the plants through drawing, painting, or clay.