Grade 7 students Emily Wilson-Francois (left)

Grade 7 students Emily Wilson-Francois (left)

Grade 7 students graduate with a song

Students in the Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion School join forces with music teacher Devon Muhlert to write a graduation song

For the first time, the Grade 7 students of the Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion School were able to sing the graduation song that they themselves wrote.

The school, nkmapl’qs i snmamamyatn ki sqilx w tet, has been in existence for seven years, a fact celebrated during grad ceremonies.

“We started with nothing,” said Pauline Gregoire-Archachan, a respected elder who teaches the 24 children her mother tongue.  “Look how far we’ve come. Just look at the children.”

She embraces each one fondly as she hands them their certificates.

“They’re all like my grandchildren,” she says, “only  better —they listen!”

Another tradition was started by their music teacher, Devon Muhlert, when she had students write their own song.   The first two years, Muhlert, whom they named Mrs. Music,  used games so they wouldn’t be intimidated.

For the grads, the process started with brainstorming ideas of what  had impacted them, and the impressions they’d take with them.  Then they played them on the class set of native flutes.

“We did a class song and a graduating song each year,” said Muhlert. “Each song has been very different, reflecting the character of the three or four grads. But you can’t sing while blowing a flute.

“This is the first year that the older kids started guitar, so now they’re  able to sing and play.”

High on the brainstorming  list was dodgeball,  played  at lunchtime with Chad Marchand. Butterflies in chrysalis were another theme.

Their song is titled We’re on Our Way:

“We-ee-ee-ee play dodgeball all day i-in the fields the beginning of May.

We-ee see growing of butterfly wings, they’ll rise up high to see what the world brings.

Yeh eh eh eh eh eh yeh and we say, We found the way to a wonderful day.

Now all you people can sing a-along, sing with our graduation song.

I know you’re eager to play and stay, but like those butterflies, we’re on our way.”

The vision of the school remains to preserve the sqilxw language, culture and rights, while also meeting and exceeding provincial learning outcomes.  The 2013 graduating class of three is the first that started from Grade 1 all the way to Grade 7.  They’ll likely continue to make their mentors proud as they start Grade 8 in Vernon schools.