Grade 5 students Lucas Newman and Annika Sauer play the rolling ring game.

Grade 5 students Lucas Newman and Annika Sauer play the rolling ring game.

Project celebrates cultures

Beairsto Elementary celebrates with Okanagan Indian Band

Sage smoke wafted upwards as Okanagan Indian Band elder Victor Antoine performed the smudging ceremony and asked a blessing for Beairsto Elementary’s Belonging and Becoming art project.

“We fan the smoke with an eagle feather. That is how the prayer is taken to the ear of our Creator, that what the teachers and students have done here will bring everyone together,” he said.

“We pray that this art will be here for as long as the building stands as a reminder of what can be accomplished when we all work together.”

The project, which took almost a year to complete, is the work of students, teachers, parents, grandparents and volunteers. It celebrates First Nations, Métis and francophone cultures with a permanent installation in the foyer of the school.

The creative team, led by principal Wendy Varley, artist and aboriginal lead teacher elementary Greg Ellis, aboriginal support worker Janet Gagne, and Grade 7 student Levi Barnett, with local artist Christine Kashuba, designed the project so that each student would make a piece, including animals and symbols and a map of francophone countries around the world.

The more than 600 pieces come together in an installation on both sides of the foyer of the school.

The kindergarten and Grade 1 students (with the help of their Grade 7 buddies) made clay salmon; Grade 2 made bear, buffalo, caribou and coyotes; Grade 3 — flags and porcupines; Grade 4 — button blankets; Grade 5 — wire turtles and seals; Grade 6 — ceintures fleches (woven sashes, Métis symbol); and Grade 7 —penguins, the school mascot.

There are about 50 aboriginal and Métis students at Beairsto.

“All the students really enjoyed getting to know the aboriginal culture and learning more about their friends’ heritage,” said Ellis.

Kashuba is pleased that the project has a contribution from each student in the school.

“It made everyone more aware of the aboriginal heritage. They are proud of what they have done,” she said.

“Thanks to the teachers for adding this to the curriculum and to everyone who helped.”

Varley was inspired to do the project several years ago when she saw a button cape in a museum.

“I wanted our school to do something as beautiful and meaningful and everyone has done a wonderful job,” she said.


“This is the first time we have had an aboriginal support worker in the school, Janet Gagne, and she’s done so much for awareness. This will be a permanent display as a welcome to our school for everyone to enjoy for a long time to come.”