Traditional ways of Learning

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Plants and Healing:

A large aspect of Ktunaxa culture was learning by being outside. Nature and its resources would provide things for people such as food and medicines.

Plants are very important for living. Some kinds of plants could be used to heal people. When someone was sick in the Ktunaxa community there were plants to help heal. For example, if someone had a sore throat a healer could go pick some stinging nettle with gloves and boil the stinging nettle in water over a fire. Then the person with a sore throat would drink it.This is called stinging nettle tea and they gave it to whoever was sick and it would help their throat and make them feel better. Stinging nettle was used for many things, not just healing the roots were used to make tea as it was high in iron. 

There were also a lot more plants that they used for healing There were animals too, not just plants. You didn’t use only the roots of the plant, you used other parts like the bark stem leaves, roots, and petals. 

You didn’t use just the roots of the plant you use other parts like the bark stem leaves roots and petals

Young children and youth learned from their Elders. They learned by experiences and spending time with Elders. All community members learned from stories and understood that stories were an important part of learning. 

The most important plants for the medicine plants Ktunaxa taught their children to not waste and appreciate things they used from nature.

Stories often had deeper messages and taught people how to think about the riddles presented in stories.

Residential Schools:

Our elder told us about how First Nation children were taken away from their homes and parents sometimes without telling anyone. Sometimes the parents were warned and other times the parents had no idea but the First Nations people unfortunately didn’t have a choice and there’s no words to describe how wrong it was. These schools were called residential schools. The kids received awful treatment at these schools and were mentally and physically abused.

These schools were created to try and colonize the Ktunaxa people. If the aboriginal kids were caught speaking their own language, attempting to run away, smiling at children of the opposite sex or ones siblings, or breaking any of the rules the school had pt in place there would be a terrible punishment. These punishments were [torture] some of the punishments were whippings, strappings, beatings, burining pots and pans on your hands, and lot’s more forms of abuse and humilitaion. 

What happened at these schools were truly awful and nobody can ever take back what happened. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

We need to listen to stories of what happened in the residential schools to make sure it never happens again. It wasn’t just the abuse that was hard on the children in these schools, it was also being separated from your family and your home. You were torn away from your siblings right when you got there and sometimes when the children got home they had already forgotten about their culture. Almost all First Nations people are still healing with the intergenerational trauma that was caused from these schools. Reconciliation is how we can help revive the Ktunaxa culture and by listening to the stories of survivors. 

Creator of the Land:

The Ktunaxa people believe that the creator made everything we need ready for us and all you needed was what was around you. They believe that everything around us has a purpose and that’s all we need to survive. An example of this is that even in a small patch of grass there were so many different plants. They could eat dandelions, and these little plants in the grass without getting sick. The Ktunaxa people believe the creator put everything you need on your face: your forehead is land, your eyes are fire, your nose is air, and mouth is water. Those are all the elements you need to survive. Creator didn’t just put plants for us to eat, he put animals around us for food and clothing. The Ktunaxa people also believe that after you pass on, your soul lives on and you get to be with other passed loved ones. The Ktunaxa people were spiritual and used the guidance from the creator for their everyday teachings and learnings.

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Location of Learning:

They learned through stories and activities school would teach outside people learned by just living life, hearing stories, and doing activities that you would naturally learn just by knowing you needed to survive. Ktunaxa people were water people. They used the river and wetlands in their everyday lives.

They were taught that the forehead would mean the land, the mouth would mean water, the nose would mean air and the eyes would mean fire. All of those things were needed to live. These are the four elements needed: land, water, air, and fire.

The Ktunaxa people learned from experiences and stories. They valued the lessons learned from stories and viewed these stories as important lessons.


Many First Nation Cultures wouldn’t actually talk to communicate. A majority of people would actually use body language to communicate with other people. The Ktunaxa people had a very icolate language. Sadly, the Ktunaxa language(Kutenai Language) is very close to being extinct with very few fluent speakers because there are not many Elders left to pass it on. The Ktunaxa language is also really hard to learn. Every word in the Ktunaxa language has a meaning and there is a word for almost every situation. For example, the months of the year describe what is happening during that month.

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How we are changing the exhibit:

We are changing the exhibit by taking a small patch of grass just outside of the school house and turning it into a super cool Ktunaxa display and showing how the Ktunaxa people would learn. We are simply showing you reconciliation by including the Ktunaxa ways into this exhibit. We included on display traditional Ktunaxa plants that were needed for their survival, a teepee which was their shelter, and a traditional storytelling circle. We hope you like our idea just as much as we do.

Traditional ways of Learning