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Colwood school, Sooke School District promote healing, reconciliation education

Unique canoe project sees students paddle together
Teachers Gillian Le Rose and Rick Fabris hold a canoe that’s part of a unique reconciliation project at Westshore Colwood School. (Photo courtesy of Sooke School District)

For this week in the Sooke School District and beyond, reconciliation and the colour orange go hand in hand.

One of the projects that speak to the importance of Orange Shirt Day and reconciliation in SD62 in a collaborative, thoughtful manner is the creation of an art canoe carefully crafted by Grade 9 art class students and staff at Westshore Colwood School, said John Lyall, the school’s vice-principal.

“I have a deeply personal connection to Sept. 30,” noted Lyall, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation who has worked in a variety of capacities for SD62 over 20 years. “My mother and most of my aunts and uncles went to residential schools and I’ve seen the negative impact it had on them.

“On the other side, I’ve been fortunate to witness the positive impact Orange Shirt Day has had on raising awareness and reflection for staff and students throughout the district and the community. I always like to quote my uncle, Alex Nelson, who said, ‘As we mourn together, we heal together.’”

ALSO READ: Greater Victoria group delivering reconciliation materials to Little Free Libraries

Although he sketched the original thunderbird design for the canoe, Lyall said the majority of the work was handled by the school’s Grade 9 students and their teacher, Rick Fabris.

“They made it come to life,” Lyall added.

As part of the project, Elders Earl Claxton and Rick Peter will discuss what reconciliation means with the students, who will then express their thoughts by adding words to a collection of small orange paddles to be placed around the canoe.

“The project is a metaphorical journey for all of us paddling together,” Lyall said.

Bryan Johnson, acting principal for Na’tsa’maht Indigenous Education for SD 62, said he “heartily” agrees with the decision to declare Sept. 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“Recent findings in Kamloops and across the country have underlined the importance of bringing awareness about residential schools and the impact they had on First Nations and Indigenous communities,” he said. “We have recognized the significance of Orange Shirt Day in the district for many years, but more schools are making it a larger event to provide greater educational opportunities for our students. As we work towards reconciliation, raising awareness and working with students and the community is central.”

Johnson stressed the district will continue its efforts to achieve that.

ALSO READ: Local B.C. governments seek ways to go beyond talking about reconciliation

“Tiffany Adams, our department’s curriculum co-ordinator, has worked really hard to compile resources that will be available to staff to discuss this with students,” he said. “It’s a really important step toward creating equitable communities.”

Sooke author Teoni Spathelfer, a member of the Heitsuk Nation from Coastal B.C., is hosting a virtual book talk for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 1:10 p.m. that includes readings and discussion about her book, Little Wolf. She will present another of her works, White Raven, for Grade 4 and 5 students Tuesday at 1:50 p.m. and on Wednesday at 2:20 p.m. for those in Grade 6 to 12.

Spathelfer has immersed herself in her own culture and others from around the world since she was a child. She has worked as a publicist, radio journalist, host, producer and has written about arts and music.

Her documentary Teoni’s Dream was inspired by her mother’s residential school experience and has aired nationwide on CBC Radio. Her photography has been featured in a variety of media and has sold privately. She has three daughters and four grandchildren.

About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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