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School staff make space for Indigenous stories in Vernon

Approximately 900 took part in Pro-D day education

Not just teachers, but bus drivers, clerical and support staff and maintenance crews were among those going back to school Monday.

Approximately 900 Vernon School District staff took part in Indigenous-focused non-instructional day Sept. 25 at Vernon Secondary.

While teaching staff were the only ones required to take part, the district went a step further and invited, and paid for, CUPE staff to join the day of learning.

“It was a wonderful day of learning for all SD22 staff that centered around Indigenous voice and Indigenous stories, and how making space for those voices and stories can contribute to reconciliation,” said Charity Sakakibara, Indigenous education director.

An Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) elder and drummer started the day off ahead of a presentation called Unpacking the ‘Truth’ in Truth and Reconciliation through Story, from Anne Tenning, an Indigenous education consultant, who is also the director of Indigenous education and equity for the Central Okanagan School District.

Tenning, whose mother attended a residential school, was the first person in her family to graduate from high school.

“We are all on a journey to deepen our cultural and community connections, but this can be challenging due to the aftermath of colonization and residential schools which impacts many Indigenous people in so many different ways. What matters is being inclusive and to welcome people into the circle, rather than excluding them,” said Tenning, who spoke about the need to respect the diversity of Indigenous peoples.

“We can teach about the darker aspects of Indigenous history in B.C./Canada from a stance of hope, healing, resilience, resistance – strength-based.”

An Indigenous student panel then shared their experiences in the school district to help staff move forward.

“One of the big messages was the importance of relationships and connections with students,” said Sakakibara. “Connecting on an individual level and seeing them as people. Honouring their differences and identities.

“They talked about folks in particular who have made a difference for them.”

National Truth and Reconciliation Day is Saturday, Sept. 30, but schools will observe the day on Friday.

For some it will involved wearing orange shirts in honour of the children who did not make it home from residential schools, for others there will be lessons and teachings on the subject and some will incorporate special ceremonies, including drumming and dancing.

“We really want to honour those people who’ve experienced that and the people that have been taken, those children,” said Sakakibara.

The North Okanagan Shuswap School District has partnered with Splatsin for an event for 300 students from M.V. Beattie, A.L. Fortune and Shihiya School on Sept. 28. The schools will take in a presentation from Isabella Kulak, who wore her ribbon skirt to her Saskatchewan school in 2020 and was shamed for it by an educational assistant. News spread and a wave of support of women and men wearing ribbons skirts and shirts walked to school in January.

Outside of the schools there are several events taking place.

The North Okanagan Friendship Centre has a walk taking place in Vernon, on Thursday, Sept. 28, starting at 10:30 a.m. from the Early Years building at 2902 29th Ave. The walk will take part in the Indigenous Learning Tour and return to the centre for snacks. The Friendship Centre is also hosting a barbecue Wednesday, Oct. 4 from 12 to 2 p.m. at 2904 29th Ave.

OKIB hosts a community gathering Sept. 30 at Komasket Park at 1 p.m. with drums, singing, knowledge sharing and a meal.

A free movie, When You Laugh All Your Sadness Goes Away, is shown Saturday 6:30 p.m. at Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.

READ MORE: Splatsin’s 150 residential school survivors and victims honoured in Enderby

READ MORE:Connect with Indigenous culture on fun, interactive Vernon tour

Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

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