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Welcome pole to be raised at new wing of Nanaimo elementary school

It’s one of many activities and events taking place at schools to mark the National Day For Truth and Reconciliation

A welcome pole created by a Snuneymuxw First Nation artist will be unveiled Saturday at the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District’s École Hammond Bay Elementary in honour of the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Artist Noel Brown also has a welcome pole at the district’s Bayview Elementary, Maffeo Sutton Park and Nanaimo’s new Fire Station 1.

The latest pole was created for a new 12-classroom wing at École Hammond Bay completed this month. The idea for the Saturday unveiling came from the Snuneymuxw First Nation, said district spokesperson Dale Burgos.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District is one of many districts across the Island that have been marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this week with everything from special events to orange shirt days for students and staff.

“It’s really highlighting the importance of our educational work in the ‘truth’ part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations,” said Sooke School District superintendent Scott Stinson.

“That’s building the understanding of residential schools and the impacts they had on Indigenous people.”

The district held a ceremony in August to name a school under construction SĆIȺNEW̱ SṮEȽIṮḴEȽ (schee-ay-nuh ska-leetk-luth), which means “salmon children” in English.

Stinson said the district works “very closely” with local First Nations in identifying potential names, which are then gifted to the district. “That builds a big understanding about language as part of the reconciliation piece.”

West Shore RCMP visited Colwood and Savory elementaries Friday, with Const. Cole Brewer of the Indigenous Policing Unit speaking to students about the meaning of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, leading them in drumming and showing them how to make bannock.

“It is important for us to show our support for the Indigenous communities that we serve, many of whom were forced to attend residential schools, and many more with family members who are survivors and victims,” said Brewer, who comes from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band near Osoyoos.

Saanich Teachers’ Association president Don Peterson said many of the Saanich School District’s approximately 700 teachers were at an event during last week’s professional-development day at the Mary Winspear Centre focused on truth and reconciliation.

Teachers have also been discussing Indigenous issues in their classrooms, Peterson said.

The association encourages its teachers to consider the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation “a day of reflection as opposed to being a holiday,” he said.

In the Cowichan Valley School District, where there are eight Indigenous groups, schools have been holding assemblies this week and getting visits from elders as the district builds on a long-held effort to enhance Indigenous education and culture.

“We started years ago on this journey,” said spokesperson Mike Russell.

He said important steps have included bringing in B.C.’s first ever school-district elder, Dolly Sylvester, in 2019.

“She is in the classroom with students, and she teaches language and culture in support of our other teachers,” Russell said. “She also provides guidance for the district and for district staff on protocols.”

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