Combining faith and aboriginal roots

By 
  • April 29, 2010
Verna HardwickSudbury Catholic Schools’ native language teacher Verna Hardwick combines her aboriginal roots and Catholic faith in the classroom, sharing her gift of song and First Nations culture to students who have lost touch with their own language and roots.

Hardwick, 57, recently released a CD entitled Aanii (which means “hello” in Ojibwe) with songs featuring drumming and sung in the native language. This CD is now a teaching tool in her classes at St. David and St. Raphael Catholic School.

A decade ago, Hardwick joined the Sudbury Catholic board to work in its pilot program for native language. She now teaches the program in two Sudbury schools. Most of her students are of First Nations background, but she is finding more who aren’t and are keen on learning  the new language.

Hardwick speaks Odawa and teaches in three dialects: Odawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwe. She began singing 10 years ago at the Friendship Centre. After rediscovering her native culture and language, Hardwick became passionate about helping First Nations students rediscover their roots.

Since then, she has introduced drumming and singing to her students. They have been invited to sing and drum at some school Masses.

“It’s really neat to see at Mass sometimes, to see both cultures there,” she said.

The connection between the two, Hardwick adds, reflects a balance in her own life between faith and culture.

“We’re all one anyway. We all believe in the same God and creator,” Hardwick said.

As for passing it on to her students, Hardwick said it’s important for her to teach them about their native language and culture.

“The importance of them being aware of what their culture is about, having them reclaim their culture (that was) absent in their lives for many years,” she said.

Hardwick has also learned about the First Nations ritual of smudging (using sage), which she likens to the practice of using incense during Mass. She has also introduced her students to this practice, which is usually performed as a cleansing or healing ritual. Over the years, she’s been finding these kinds of common elements between her Catholic faith and aboriginal culture.

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