Students Read In, march on National Indigenous Peoples Day

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Southern Gulf Islands students are becoming leaders in learning and understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing.  

“You guys are leading the way, you’re the charges, you guys know more than most adults on this island,” said Indigenous studies principal Shannon Johnston, as she gathered with Salt Spring Island Middle School (SIMS) students in preparation for a march of awareness of Indigenous women and girls who’ve gone missing or been murdered. The Tears to Hope Walk was one of the many ways students marked National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.  

“It’s not reconciliation, it’s ‘reconciliaction.’ And action speaks powerful things when people witness it,” said Johnston, referencing words from the local Stqeeye’ Learning Society.

SIMS students are the first in the district to be taking a year-long Indigenous studies class, and both Raazi Ahmadi and Molly Magley agree that learning Hul’q’umi’num’ has been a highlight.

“So far we’ve learned how to count to six and say things like hello and thank you, learned how to say the territory acknowledgement,” Ahmadi said. 

“I’m grateful for the Indigenous people of this land, for stewarding it. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know it was today until I saw it on my calendar,” said Ahmadi, who donned a bright orange shirt for the day.

Magley explains the class learns through playing Go Fish and Memory with Hul’q’umi’num’ words for animals Indigenous to the Coast Salish area. 

“It’s a good way to learn by repetition,” she said. 

Magley, who moved to Salt Spring in 2020 from Colorado, has been sharing the language with her family members and has a dream that in the future the language will get so mainstream that she’ll be able to speak it with patients at her dream job in surgery.

The class has also been learning about the medicine wheel, different medicines for different seasons, and how cedar is used, “just to name a few,” Magley said. 

“I’m able to see sage and I’m able to recognize the meaningful traditions behind the plant and how much it’s been used and how much that plant means to so many people . . . and specifically Indigenous teachings, it’s meant so much for so long. Thousands and thousands of years people have been here and stewarded the land.”

June 21 also saw Salt Spring Elementary School students take part in a “read in” on Indigenous stories. It’s not a new concept for students, since they have participated in “read ins” on topics such as peace and friendship, explained principal Shelly Johnson. Students gain skills in literacy, the subjects themselves as well as getting to learn and spend time with students they normally wouldn’t be in the same class or same age group with.

The Indigenous stories “read in” was organized by Kindergarten and Grade 1 teacher Sylvia Louwman, with students choosing which room to attend based on the book covers put up in the school ahead of the day.

As Johnston told the Driftwood last week, she’s heartened to see Indigenous knowledge integrated across the school district in a meaningful way. One example of this at Salt Spring Elementary are the names of each classroom. Classes on the lower floor are all around water, with the salmon and orca classes. On the middle floor, which is land, classes include bears, raccoons, wolves and frogs. Upstairs are air classes for hummingbirds, dragonflies, owls and ravens. There are also regular classes with Quentin Harris, said Johnson, and teacher Janisse Browning has also brought a lot to the staff about how to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing. 

Everything classes do out on the land, “that is Indigenous ways of knowing,” said Johnson. ”Like the trips to Mouat Park, the gardening, the outdoor learning, that is another way to weave it in.” Children are also leading land acknowledgements at meetings. “It’s really a lot more integrated and rich than it was even a few years ago.” 

Makayla Joe-George, who is 22 and from Cowichan, also comes to the school weekly where she spends time with Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at the Indigenous lunch club. Joe-George, who also visits Fulford and Fernwood elementary schools, said it was her first year running the club and spent it getting to know students and connecting with them. 

“If they had any questions about anything to do with our culture or what I do, I do my best to answer,” she said. “And I find that they really enjoy the treats . . .There’s lots of laughing, I love that.”

“My job is basically just to be an older sister to them, a more fun older sister,” she explained. 

Salt Spring Elementary School’s “Read In” Reading List 

• The Little Hummingbird
by Michael Nicoll/Yahgulanaas

• Red Parka by Mary Peter Eyvindson

• How the Fox got his Crossed Legs collected by Virginia Football 

• The First Mosquito
by Caroll Simpson

• A Day with Yayah
by Nicola I. Campbell

• Eagle Boy Retold
by Richard Lee Vaughan

• Animals of the Salish Sea
by Melaney Gleeson-Lyall 

• Peace Dancer
by Roy Henry Vickers & Robert Budd

• Orca Chief
by Roy Henry Vickers & Robert Budd     

• Raven’s Feast
by Kung Jaadee

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