A special workshop took place at Pictou Landing First Nation School this winter, immersing students in the world of petroglyphs (images traditionally carved in stone).

A new video produced by Dr. Shane Theunissen, Assistant Professor of Child & Youth Study at Mount Saint Vincent University, and MSVU’s Digital Media Zone (videographer Nick Jones) tells the story of the workshop.

It all started two years ago, when partners from Pictou Landing First Nation School, Mount Saint Vincent University, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and Canadian Maritime Heritage Foundation led a boat building workshop for students at the school.

The Building Boats Changing Lives program launched in 2017 and has since engaged several groups of youth in the building of a row boat known as a Bevin’s Skiff. The program is about far more than teaching traditional marine boat building skills (though that’s a critical part of the experience); it’s just as much about developing agency, amplifying children’s voices, and forging relationships in polygenerational and intercultural contexts.

This year, the partners reconnected with the kids in Pictou Landing to paint the boat they previously built through a workshop led by renowned Mi’kmaq artist Alan Syliboy. The student paintings featured Mi’kmaq petroglyphs, which Alan describes as an important storytelling tool. “We don’t know a lot of information because we’ve lost [Mi’kmaq] population…Information dies with that as well.” But Alan describes petroglyphs as a means of learning about what was lost. “They are left to us directly,” he says.

“The petroglyphs are left and that’s one of the true things that we can count on as Mi’kmaq – they are written right there for us right on the land, they are marks on the ground. They were left from our ancestors. And as an artist I consider that I have to leave my marks on the ground too for the next ones.”

The boat built and painted by the students of Pictou Landing First Nation School will be part of an exhibit at the Maritime Museum to launch the North American Indigenous Games.