Education: Kernels of Wisdom

by Jennie Aspinall

5 min read

In December 2021, Manchester Museum visited two local primary schools to deliver a series of workshops about Indigenous gardening, led by Border Crossings (a charity that celebrates the world’s First Nations) with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Botany Bay project set out to “make use of the migration histories of plants and crops, and their Indigenous cultural heritage in relation to ecology and reciprocity, as a way to stimulate young people to explore new ways of living”.

In a school hall, inside Manchester Museum’s Inflatable Museum, Alexandra P. Alberda, the Curator of Indigenous Practices, seamlessly wove together object handling with personal experience and storytelling. Throughout the workshops, pupils reflected upon where our common food plants come from, how these plants were, and are, used by Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and how colonisation impacted upon these practices. Using colourful corn, beautiful butterflies, and antique prints of medicinal plants, the group explored different ways of knowing, based on kinship and care, and the event was less about teaching and perhaps better described as gifting.

The pupils started to make connections and comparisons with their own lived experiences, and to develop plans for their own sustainable school garden. It was sobering to see how discussing the museum objects revealed a genuine concern about climate change and its impacts for many of the pupils.

I learnt that if you be kind to nature, it will be kind to you… …We can say thank you and probably kiss the plant(s)