Graduates from Hope Secondary School (HSS) were honoured with a Blanket Ceremony to mark their next stage in life.
The ceremony, which took place at the school gymnasium last Wednesday (May 31) during Indigenous Awareness Week, was performed for HSS’s senior students who graduated last Saturday (June 3). Traditionally performed for HSS’s Indigenous graduates, this year the ceremony was extended to HSS’s non-Indigenous students as well.
According to Rosalee Floyd, the principal of HSS, the idea to perform the blanket ceremony for the entire graduating class came about in a meeting where, while updating staff on discussions held within the Equity and Action Committee, the question was raised if all students could take part in the ceremony.
“Well in the past we have blanketed our Indigenous students, who are graduating, as part of the Indigenous Honoring ceremony that we typically have at this time of year,” said Rosalee Floyd, the principal of HSS. “And so as we continue to work towards truth and reconciliation, the question was raised, is it possible for us to blanket all of the students? I took it back to the committee, and we discussed it to make sure that we weren’t missing any protocols or anything like that.
“Long story short, we went ahead with our plan to blanket all of the students because, although we’ve had some of our senior students blanketed, it’s always been in a ceremony that’s been separate from the rest of the school. So, many students would never have witnessed anything like this before or even some of the staff for that matter. And this was an opportunity to showcase this honor.”
According to Floyd credit for the ceremony goes towards HSS’s Indigenous team. In fact, Floyd said that the event could not have happened without their hard work.
The ceremony was organized by HSS’s Indigenous Support Workers, Caitlin Demmitt and Jessica Poirier (a member of Spuzzum First Nation), and by HSS’s Indigenous Mentor, Kristie Peters (a member of Chawathil First Nation). Justin Kelly (a member of Shxw’ōwhámél First Nation) was the MC for the ceremony and explained each part of the ceremony, in order for the audience to understand the symbolic importance of the ceremony, as well as each piece and the reason for it. Life advice/speeches were also given by Shane John (a member of Chawathil First Nation) and Chawathil Elder Patricia John.
The graduating class all received blankets which were wrapped around them. For many Indigenous cultures across Canada, receiving a blanket holds symbolism tied to acknowledging a relationship, along with honouring, respecting, and recognizing an individual and their achievements. In the case of HSS’s graduating class, the gifted blankets are meant to provide protection and to honour the students as they transition into the next chapter of their lives.
According to Floyd, the reaction of the blanket ceremony, both during and after, has been nothing short of positive with many of the students expressing gratitude over being included in the event.
“It was a really a moving ceremony. It truly was beautiful, in my opinion,” Floyd said. “And, during our planning, I had mentioned to the team that I think it’s important that we try and educate the students beforehand. So, we provided staff with information about the ceremony so they could talk to their students about what this ceremony meant. We also had announcements during the week to help prep students for (the ceremony). And then we had everybody in the gym, and it was all well and good.”
Younger students, who were also in attendance to witness the event, also expressed interest in the ceremony and, according to Floyd, came away from it with more respect, understanding, and awareness (as well as excitement over one day being able to participate in the ceremony). Due to the education provided beforehand, many students wanted to learn more about the ceremony and were asking questions throughout the week leading up to it.
As such, she said HSS plans to continue the blanket ceremony for all graduating students in the future years.
“As we move forward in this community towards truth and reconciliation, I just really want people to embrace the kindness that is within us all,” Floyd said. “It’s like Rose Peters (Chawathil First Nation’s band manager who passed away last year) said — I held her in high esteem and even in my own learning I relied on Rose. She said to me, ‘as long as you’re coming to it with a good heart, even if you make a mistake, it’ll be okay’.”