Come fall, students can study SENĆOŦEN at Stelly’s secondary school.
It follows the lead of the LÁU,WELNEW Tribal School and W̱SÁNEĆ school board.
Last week, all students at the high school got a taste of what that might mean to aboriginal students.
The library was set up for the week as a learning centre with five stations to help educate students on the residential school system in the province and First Nations culture in general.
“It’s significant that we remind our kids in the community about the First Nations teachings in the community,” said principal Peter Westhaver. The exercise was created after a team of students attended the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Victoria. There they heard from those who experienced residential schools first hand.
“It’s been powerful but also positive,” said Terry Steele, First Nations support teacher at Stelly’s.
It was just one portion of W̱SÁNEĆ week at Stelly’s honouring the four First Nation communities on the Saanich Peninsula. Other events included talks from local chiefs, traditional food sampling and nature walks.
“It’s a start of a new beginning and a new relationship, not just here on the Peninsula, but beyond,” said Philip Tom, cultural education assistant at Stelly’s. “Students and teachers had open minds … This week has been overwhelming with the aboriginal learning opportunities.”
Monday they launched the cherry on top – a new introductory SENĆOŦEN program in true W̱SÁNEĆ style with a feast for elders, staff, administration and chiefs.
“The foundation comes from the tribal school, John Elliot, the elders group and the apprentice group. Without them we couldn’t offer this program,” Tom said. “I believe [the language] is starting to make a comeback and a lot of pride is coming back to our people with the language coming back.”
The introductory SENĆOŦEN, while designated a Grade 11 course, will be open to all students.
“Offering it just demonstrates an inherent level of respect for the SENĆOŦEN language and W̱SÁNEĆ culture,” Steele said.
Forty one students have already registered and the school expects to expand the course to cover other grades in the future. Stelly’s follows the footsteps of LÁU,WELNEW Tribal School on West Saanich Road which already uses the B.C. Ministry of Education and locally developed SENĆOŦEN language and culture curriculum.
Peninsula First Nations communities
• TSARTLIP, 750 members
• PAUQUACHIN, 220 members
• TSEYCUM, 150 members
• TSAWOUT, 630 members