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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

First Nations honour parents and children

By David Doyle

On November 8, 2007, the First Nations Aboriginal Education Council, North Vancouver School District, held a feast honouring First Nations parents and children at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre.

The Honourable Steven L. Point, lieutenant governor of BC, and Mrs. Gwen Point were the guests of honour at this beautiful gathering and were drummed and sung into the Chief Joe Mathias Centre by a traditional First Nations honour guard and welcoming committee. The committee included the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh chiefs, elders, and the North Vancouver School District Aboriginal Education Council. Welcoming speeches and prayer were by Chief Gibby Jacobs and Chief Leanne George.

In his address, the lieutenant governor pointed out that for Aboriginal people, history traditionally was not written in books. Education was life, it was the mountains and the rivers, the animals and the birds that provided daily lessons. It was the elders who educated through stories, dance, and traditional enterprises, such as canoe building. Then came public schools, and no surprise to anyone, it was not done well.

The lieutenant governor went on to talk about education today where elders are getting into the schools. He explained how they are talking, encouraging culture and language—making school familiar and real. This is much different than in the past. Today, there is a willingness to allow cultural and language activities in schools. It is an important component of the move toward self-government—education is a crucial factor in the success of all of our endeavors.

Deeply impassioned, the lieutenant governor told the full hall that for the leaders of tomorrow it is not good enough to have a degree in economics or science. They must have a degree of the heart, a PhD in elder’s wisdom.

The lieutenant governor emphasized that the world is not the same as in the past and that what is needed is strong leadership and policies that incorporate the values of the elders. He stressed that it is important for First Nations to bring what we know to Canada, share what we understand, thereby improving all our lives. Credits and education all mean nothing unless you turn them into something real. It is time to bring forth a vision for the future that includes First Nations people—it is time to share.

After the lieutenant governor spoke, Gwen Point, a Sto:lo educator, spoke as well. She asked: How can we help children succeed? How can we get parents involved? How can we get them coming to the school? She then answered most eloquently—the children need to see themselves in the curriculum; they need to hear their songs and their language. She also pointed out that when one of our people stands up, we all stand up. Children in schools are on the front lines. We are creating the future for seven generations.

Another highlight of the evening was the chiefs from the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh Nations presenting their guests with a brief traditional "blanket" ceremony, calling upon four witnesses to speak. This was followed by entertainment by students and greetings from other nations. Of note was the address of one of the chiefs who summed up his understanding of education and the evening, paying respect to the disciplined life of the Lieutenant Governor Steven Point and Mrs. Point. He also reminded us all to respect the accomplishments of the Nations and to remember that—knowledge is not a substitute for wisdom.

David Doyle teaches at Sutherland Secondary School, North Vancouver.

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