National Aboriginal Day is June 21 and students in School District No. 46 (SD46) have been celebrating all month to mark the occasion.
SD46 decided to devote the entire month of June to learning about and celebrating Aboriginal culture as some students will finish the school year before June 21.
“Because the secondary schools aren’t able to be fully involved on that day, that’s one of the reasons why our major focus was on making the Aboriginal month,” superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking said.
Schools have been taking part in Aboriginal art projects, learning about traditional customs and practising the Sechelt (shíshálh) language.
While Aboriginal education has been highlighted this month, learning about First Nation heritage and culture is a constant in SD46.
“In our world, every day is Aboriginal Day,” said Kerry Mahlman, Aboriginal education district principal for SD46, during a presentation to the school board June 14.
“We do so many amazing things, but one thing that I’m honoured to celebrate tonight is the work that’s being done this year on our revitalization and transformation of our shashíshálhem language program.”
Mahlman explained that the Abor-iginal education department is taking another look at its language program to ensure it meets the approaches outlined in the new curriculum.
The current model is based on the French as a second language model developed about 20 years ago.
“We’ve all learned so much more about indigenous peoples and their ways of seeing the world, their ways of learning, so the Ministry [of Education] has acknowledged that we need to change the framework,” Mahlman said, noting the ministry gave funds to SD46 to explore new ways of delivering the language lessons.
Mahlman said Aboriginal educators in SD46 have found that learning a new language has to be relevant, active, social and fun in order to stick with kids. On that note she asked language teacher Rita Poulsen to give school board trustees a quick shíshálh language lesson – and soon trustees were standing up, sitting down, turning around and dancing while learning the traditional shíshálh terms for each movement.
“It’s just a fun, interactive way to learn language,” Poulsen said.
In the spirit of celebration, before ending their presentation to the board, Poulsen, Mahlman, Andy Johnson, Landon Dixon and Cora Lee Joe-Louis shared a Squamish Nation song with trustees about greeting the day.
School board chair Betty Baxter thanked the group for their presentation and their work on the Aboriginal education front.
“úl-nú-msh-chálap,” Baxter said, which means “thank you, you make me grateful.”
“It’s so important for us every time when we have some part of Aboriginal culture in our district events. It’s becoming more and more a part of what we do, every time we do something.”
On June 21 students still in class will celebrate National Aboriginal Day in a variety of ways, from rotating through Aboriginal activity stations to sharing a salmon barbecue on school grounds.
The Sechelt Nation is also planning a private community celebration for band members from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sechelt Band Hall on June 21.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Aboriginal Day, which serves to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.