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Messages On Stone

Educational Aim

An activity for Ethics and Religious Culture classes, secondary cycle one

The Messages on Stone learning and evaluation situation (LES) provides an opportunity for secondary cycle one students to explore Indigenous spirituality and reflect on the values of respect and transfer of knowledge, as highlighted in the Images on Stone online exhibit.

The activity focuses on the basics of religious and spiritual representations and rituals and examples from the online exhibit. It helps students understand the importance of rock artwork, as it features symbols and sites connected with the Indigenous mythological worlds.

The activity encourages students to make connections between specific knowledge about traditional Indigenous cultures and their contemporary forms. It also provides students with an opportunity to learn how to draw on their reasoning skills and creativity to help age-old traditions persist into the future.

Learning Areas and Target Skill Sets

The Messages on Stone activity is part of the Citizenship and Community Life broad area of learning. It encourages the development of openness to the world and respect for diversity.

Subject Area: Ethics and Religious Culture

  • Reflecting on ethical matters
    • Formulating ethical questions on social order
  • Showing an understanding of the religious phenomenon
    • Establishing links between a work of art and a religious account
    • Explaining the symbolism of some religious references
    • Describing types of religious experiences

Cross-curricular Competency

  • Exercising critical judgment


A Three-step Learning Situation

  • Preparation: Art: A Reflection of Our Beliefs
  • Creation: The Clash of Values
  • Integration: Instilling Respect

These three steps can be carried out in whole or in part.

At the end of the activity, you and your students will have:

  • Made connections between specific rock art representations and the use of rock art sites for the practice of rituals;
  • Highlighted potential conflicts arising from differences in beliefs;
  • Associated values of tolerance, respect and transfer of knowledge with Indigenous beliefs and their expressions.

To take full advantage of your exploration of the online exhibit and proposed activities, please:

  • Read all the information provided at each step of the activity;
  • Explore the individual sections of the online exhibit;
  • Review the annexes.

Step 1 – Preparation – One period of class activity (60 minutes)

Art: A Reflection of Our Beliefs


  • Establish connections between rock art representations and the supernatural beings of Indigenous cosmogonies

Series of Steps

  • If the students have already completed the “Rock art, did you say?” history LES, the teacher can ask them to give the meaning of the term rock art. Otherwise, the teacher can ask them to search for the meaning of the term or provide the following definition:

Rock art: paintings or carvings made on rock surfaces by civilizations prior to the invention of writing.

  • The students and the teacher may browse the Why? section of the online exhibit to find the information that they need to set the context of rock art:
    • Why did the Indigenous peoples create rock art sites?
      • Rituals, including healing ceremonies and vision quests
      • Shamanic practices
      • Teachings, commemorations or historical accounts
      • Marking of territorial boundaries
    • What types of images are found on rock art sites?
      • Representations of supernatural beings
      • Representations of historical events
      • Symbols
    • In the next step of the activity, the teacher may proceed orally or in groups with the students, OR use the Memekueshuat activity card (Annex 1) and ask the students to work individually or in teams.

The teacher proposes that the students read the Memekueshuat story. The teacher shows them the image of such a being represented on the Oxford House rock art site, in Manitoba, and indicates that this mythical being is also featured on the Pepeshapissinikan site, in Quebec.

PHOTO Oxford House Rock Painting

  • What characteristics of Memekueshuat does this story reveal to us?
  • What values are conveyed in this story?
  • Rock art sites convey ancestral knowledge and values. However, are these sites still relevant nowadays? What about the relationship between today’s Indigenous peoples, non-Natives and rock art sites?

These questions will help the teacher to make the transition to the next step of the learning situation, which will allow the students to see that rock art sites give rise to various attitudes in the world today.

Step 2 – Creation – One period in class (60 minutes)

The Clash of Values


  • Associate the rock art phenomenon with contemporary experiences
  • Reflect on the differences in how the rock art phenomenon is perceived

Series of Steps

  • The teacher encourages the students to see that rock art sites can give rise to several types of attitudes and behaviours.
  • The students review the five following sources to identify potential responses to rock art sites:
    • Video introducing one or more rock art sites featured in the online exhibit
    • Picture: Graffiti on the Rocher-à-l’Oiseau – site Sacred Algonquian Rocher à l’Oiseau site (municipality of Sheenboro). Details of red ochre paint pictographs, covered with traces of vandalism.
    • Picture: Qajartalik
    • Video: A Ceremony for the Spirits of Pepeshapissinikan
    • Discovery section – Why? of the online exhibit
  • The teacher asks the students to give their impressions after observing these documentary sources. The teacher also provides some complementary information likely to help the students understand the images that they have seen:
    • Some Inuit are quite uncomfortable with the carvings featured at the Qajartalik site. Others are even scared of them. Why?
      • The teacher points out to the students that some characters have horns. Can the students provide any assumption as to why they are scared?
      • As part of the contemporary Christian religious beliefs of some Inuit, horns are symbols of the devil.
      • However, in the symbolism tradition of the Indigenous artists who created these images, horns do not bear the same meaning: they might even represent a piece of clothing worn by a character with its collar raised above the head. In addition, these images may likely be related to shamans. In fact, very little is known about the Dorset people.
    • The Nisula Ceremony video was recorded at the Nisula (Pepeshapissinikan) site, north of Forestville, Quebec, where several rock art paintings are found.

The teacher asks the students to describe the ceremony featured in the video:

  • Significance of the site, the connection between the participants and the site (their behaviour: e.g., they turn in different directions)
  • Gestures, words
  • Objects used (tobacco, fruits)
  • Feelings that the participants appear to be experiencing; feelings evoked in observers
  • The teacher refers to the following text of the online exhibit:

Visiting a rock art site can be a moving experience. Therefore, visitors should always be aware of the importance of heritage for Indigenous Peoples and other Canadians. They are encouraged to respect the integrity of the sites and honour rock art sites for future generations to experience this invaluable heritage.

The teacher may also highlight the feelings experienced by scientists and historians when contemplating such thousand-year-old traces.

  • Together as a group, the students discuss their conclusions on the feelings evoked by rock art and the values that they reflect. The teacher may add to the discussion by using the following questions:
    • What feeling can lead someone to commit vandalism (graffiti)?
      • Misunderstanding; wish to also leave a trace; recklessness in the face of social conventions (disrespect)
    • What feeling might lead today’s Indigenous peoples to recreate ancient ceremonies at rock art sites?
    • How could today’s Inuit reconcile their beliefs and reactions to the Qajartalik carvings?
    • How do the students respond to rock art sites and the actions that they bring about?
  • If rock art causes people to react quite differently, it is in part because individuals each have their own knowledge:
    • Some have had ancestral knowledge transmitted to them about the scenes represented at the sites.
    • Others do not even know that such works of art, specific to an Indigenous culture, date back to thousands of years.
    • Still others see rock art as the representation of dangerous beliefs unlike theirs.
    • Lastly, some are fascinated by the scientific knowledge that they have acquired on the topic.

How can one contribute to the protection and promotion of rock art sites while encouraging people to know more about them? This will be the topic of the next step of the activity.

Step 3 – Integration – Two periods of individual work (in class or at home)

(60 minutes for documentation, 60 minutes for writing)

Instilling Respect


  • Combine knowledge gained about the supernatural beings of Indigenous cultures with reflections on the values embodied by rock art and related ceremonies

Series of Steps

  • In the form of individual work, team work or evaluation, the teacher hands out the “A Telling Legend” activity card (Annex 2) to students.
  • To vary the themes used by the students, the teacher may use the descriptions of spiritual beings found on the websites listed at the end of this document.
  • If the teacher finds it useful, the students may share their work in class, with other classes or with younger students.

In Conclusion

The Messages on Stone learning and evaluation situation provides secondary cycle one students with an opportunity to exercise judgment and analyze the human viewpoint of a form of artistic expression otherwise studied from a scientific perspective (historical and geological). The teacher may use the LES to foster discussion and the setting of a broader theme likely to be studied from different perspectives.

A Marked Territory

In your Geography class, discover the role of rock art as a means of territorial appropriation by the Aboriginals

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