Cedar Elementary students blessed totem poles and ate bannock during a school-wide ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Cedar students sat cross-legged on the school’s gym floor and sang a prayer song as other children brushed the totem poles with cedar and water under the watchful eye of witnesses and elders Thursday morning.
Each class had designed and coloured one of the 15 totem poles with animals students felt best represented them.
It’s all part of Cedar Elementary’s work around reconciliation, which has included projects on residential schools, talks about the importance of culture and of animals in local indigenous culture, according to school principal Shona Sneddon.
“We did a lot of work on Coast Salish and looking at totem poles and so we decided that we would create a village of totem poles just like we are a village in our school,” said Sneddon.
The significance of students doing the project, she said, is that Cedar has an indigenous population, but it was also to show students, especially those who learned about residential schools, that at one point children who were taken to residential schools couldn’t have done this type of project in schools.
“It became really important for all of our students to know that it’s important to be able to share your culture and to learn about the culture of the people that were here,” Sneddon said. “It’s all about learning in place so what we have here in our neighbourhood and here in our indigenous culture, to be able to share it and the kids, they just really took off with it.”
Jerry Brown, elder and Hul’qumi’num teacher, said it was amazing and heartwarming that the school chose the totem pole as a project.
“When they chose the totem pole, when they did the blessing to appease the ground, the air, the water, they’re asking for the sprit of the tree, the trees or the poles, to come here too,” Brown said. “They asked for protection, asked for help, asked for all the special blessings the animals bring.”
Lorelai Fredrich, 10, who did a project on residential schools, said it’s important for people to learn about the culture of First Nations people, and how in residential schools, “people would always erase, or try to erase, culture and the animals and the history.
“I think it should be good for people to try and bring it back so it’s not lost forever,” said Fredrich.
Arwen Smith, 12, said it was important to celebrate the totems on National Indigenous Peoples Day because it shows respect toward aboriginal culture.
The totems will become a backdrop, seen every time the curtains open for a performance on the school stage.