Coquihalla Elementary’s hallways were a rolling sea of orange on Friday, June 18.
With 215 innocent spirits in mind, the school’s staff kicked off an Indigenous event unlike anything they’ve previously hosted.
“It’s a good day for this ceremony,” said artist Rocky LaRock, standing near the wooden carving of a bear he made as a house-post for the school. Installed this school year, Spá:th has been standing on guard, greeting everyone who enters the educational facility.
He offers “protection and welcomes guests, and rids the (area of) evil” energy, explained LaRock.
Gathered inside the school’s entrance, the ceremony’s audience was limited to those partaking in the event. However, it was Zoomed to all the school’s classrooms to continue social distancing guidelines.
This day had several purposes.
Two handmade wreaths were laid during the ceremony as a way to memorialize the 215 children found in unmarked graves on the Kamloops grounds of one of Canada’s largest residential schools.
It was also an occasion to again celebrate Spá:th’s installment, and although attending was one of his final acts before retiring, Rod Peters’s lifetime of contributions to SD78 were commemorated.
Last but certainly not least, National Indigenous Day, which takes place June 21, was recognized, both at the ceremony, and through school-wide activities after lunch.
Much like the country we live in, the day’s celebrations were a mosaic of elements that, when next to each other, highlighted not only the District’s push towards inclusion and equality, but also the need for the push.
“It’s so great to see the Indiginizating of our classrooms,” said Leanne Bowcott who, as a member of the District’s Indigenous Education Council, stood as one of four witnesses to the event. She noted that she has seen an incredible increase in the representation of First Nations art and culture in Coquihalla’s classrooms.
“Things like this also show us, as First Nations, that we belong here,” commented Trustee Cathy Speth, who attended as another witness. “It shows that we’re coming out, and we’re coming out strong,”
Speth is the first elected trustee of Indigenous descent in the District.
Also in attendance was Mayor Peter Robb.
“What I’ve learned here today,” said Robb, addressing the small group gathered in the school’s entry way, “I can bring back to my council and share (with them) why this is so important for the school and region.”
And although the message of the day’s events were too important to ignore, outgoing Indigenous Support Coordinator Rod Peters was moved to tears when he told attendees to pay attention to what was said.
“But when you go home (tonight), let it go and move on,” he said. It’s important to grow from these events, but the good and the bad.
Organized by Coquihalla staff, the event was both a celebration and a healing opportunity. Healing drums played at the ceremony’s start and finish, sacred sounds being used to mark a sacred time.
Not only was the final song unable to be recorded, but it was also the first time LaRock had played it in public. He felt everyone could benefit from its healing power, but he added that he wouldn’t be able to do it alone.
“It will take all of us to help,” explained LaRock before beginning his final drumming. “I need everyone with eyes closed and one frame of mind. I need your strength in order for this song to do its work.”
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