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Teaching Indigenous Plant Medicine at amiskwaciy Academy

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Today we will be exploring some ways in which the Edmonton Public School Board is incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the classroom.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Carrie Armstrong, a teacher with Edmonton Public Schools at amiskwaciy Academy, about the school and how she incorporates Indigenous knowledge into her classroom.

Photo Credit: Carrie Armstrong, "Mother Earth Plants for Health and Beauty"

Call to Action 62 (iii) calls upon governments to “provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms”. [1]

amiskwaciy Academy is an Edmonton public school, and students are primarily Indigenous, from Edmonton and across Western Canada. [2] amiskwaciy is unique for an Edmonton public school, in that Indigenous culture is central in all classes. [3] Every day at amiskwaciy Academy starts with students singing the morning song with drummers and rattlers. To Carrie, starting every school day this way is “amazing”, because there are so many benefits to drumming, such as helping heal trauma.

Earlier this month, amiskwaciy students attended a camp for land-based and cultural learning. While participating in storytelling with Knowledge Keepers in a tipi, students worked towards district curriculum requirements, but with Indigenous culture and teaching methods at the forefront.

Carrie’s great-grandmother was a Cree medicine woman and Knowledge keeper, who passed traditional knowledge to her daughter, who then passed it on to her granddaughter, Carrie. In her classroom, Carrie believes in doing things that are meaningful and with purpose. She shares knowledge about traditional plant medicine with her students, including sweetgrass, sage, and willow bark. After learning about the history and usage of the plants, students create tea blends to take home to share with their families.

Last year, she had an idea to teach students about business, while continuing to incorporate traditional plant knowledge into the classroom. After learning about sweetgrass, the students were challenged to come up with an idea for a product that could be sold that would be appropriate and meaningful. The students came up with a sweetgrass mineral bath and partnered with a local Indigenous company to distribute it. The students were involved in every step of the business process, combining traditional knowledge with skills learned in other classes.

Students saw why they needed math when calculating the ratio of plants to epsom salts, and when determining how many packages were needed for the amount of mineral bath. Graphic design and art skills were harnessed when designing the packaging. The students were involved in filling the packages and assembling the boxes.

This program was a huge success, and this year students will continue the in-school business and create products for two local stores.

I think Carrie’s integration of traditional knowledge into the high school curriculum is inspiring, and a model which other schools and school boards can learn from. Learning about history is important, but learning how culture and history can be incorporated into the present is equally or more important. It keeps students engaged, and shares the message that Indigenous people are still here, and Indigenous cultures are still relevant and important.

Outside of amiskwaciy, Carrie believes that schools are committing to teaching about Indigenous culture and the legacy of residential schools, and that it is important to teach the true history, because for too long it was not taught. While her mother was a residential school survivor, she did not learn of this or hear the term “residential school” until later in her life. Even fifteen years ago, only students in academically advanced classes learned about residential schools. It’s important that students learn what has really happened in history.

In its 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, the Edmonton Public School Board features a priority to “advance action towards anti-racism and reconciliation”. [4] Several public schools in Edmonton have an FNMI graduation coach program, which incorporates Indigenous cultural teaching with a focus on increasing Indigenous graduation rates. Carrie has also seen a large increase in schools supporting Orange Shirt Day, and shared that a local high school held a photo exhibit for Red Dress Day.

While Carrie acknowledges that steps are being taken in the right direction, she believes that reconciliation should be changed to ‘reconcili-action’, because it is easy to talk the talk and to do a land acknowledgement, but what are you actually doing to follow up, and to actively participate in reconciliation?

Although the majority of students are of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit descent, amiskwaciy Academy accepts students from all backgrounds. Interest in their unique cultural enrichment program continues to grow, and this year saw a record number of students interested in enrolling. This is great to see, because reconciliation requires action from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

After speaking with Carrie, I think that the learning environment created by amiskwaciy Academy would be an excellent model for other schools to follow. I hope that the government will continue to honour Call to Action 62 (iii), and provide further funding to support these programs.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliACTION

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015) at 7.

[2] amiskwaciy Academy, “School Philosophy” (last visited 18 October 2022), online: “<>.

[3] ibid.

[4] Edmonton Public Schools, “Division Strategic Plan 2022-26” (last visited 18 October 2022), online: <>.


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