Cleaning Up the Traditional Way!

Krista Dmytryshyn
Science Ambassadors

Curiculum Connections

Physical Science


ECUR 298 - 2013

Author's Note

Krista Dmytryshyn: "As an ADA project, I worked on developing ways to incorporate the traditional Métis method of soap making, which includes caustic lye and strong exothermic reactions, into the science classroom. I discovered a number of approaches to incorporate soap in the classroom, including working with pH indicators with other chemicals, using the soapberry method or melting the soap to design a more esthetically pleasing soap and show the physical reaction related to soap. In creating these alternative methods for younger students, I was also able to give myself more creative ideas for the older students. Although these methods may be simplistic and playful, the depth of student understanding increases with age. What students take out of the process can easily be modified and made more complex based on the questions asked and the quality of answer expected. 

Jennifer Billinsky, a colleague in the Chemistry department, uses a laboratory procedure to make homemade soap using sodium hydroxide and a variety of plant oils and was a great reference on contemporary methods.

Traditional Métis soap-making included recipes and knowledge is passed on verbally through story telling or apprenticeship. Therefore, many pieces of information regarding their soap making process were not recorded.  I had to rely on oral history transcripts to supply authentic Métis (or FNMI) information. These online databases included very brief information on soap making from recorded interview of Elders and simplistic explanations from memories. Using the Gabriel Dumont Institute’s virtual museum, I was able to find an interview of Jean Pelletier and Clemintine Longworth, two Métis women from Qu’appelle Valley. They spoke about making soap with their grandmothers using only lye (from ashes and water) and hard grease. This confirmed the use of the initial method by a Métis group in Saskatchewan, but there was not specific recipe or details to the process included in these resources. In attempting to gather more of the information, I contacted Jeff Baker from the Gwenna Moss Centre and Kathleen Coleclough from Kakwa. Jeff explained that this information would be hard to find, since many individuals do not practice these exact methods any more, and redirected me to the Internet or YouTube for more information. This allowed me to access videos and photos of the soap making process. Kathleen Coleclough, a Métis woman from Ricetown, Saskatchewan, is involved in reviving and maintaining wood-ash and buffalo tallow soap-making and was able to provide me with a recipe she used in making traditional soaps from wood-ash and rendered tallow and provided an oral description of the process."


Hands-on science activities and dramatic oral history transcript related to traditional soap-making in Qu'appelle Valley Métis communities

Education Utility

Hands-on science activities reinforce chemical processes involved in the production and use of soaps. Hands-on activities connect at the grade 5 and 6 level, and are extended to grade 10 Chemistry in the attached files. A teacher backgrounder is provided as a PPT file. An oral history transcript can be used as a form of dramatic engagement in the lesson, and as a starting point for discussion of the different methods of transmitting knowledge between traditional Métis communities (oral and apprenticeship) and Western methods (recipes and lab standards).