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Tla'amin skill builders' experience highlighted provincially

Students’ presentation well received at British Columbia School Trustees Association annual general meeting

Two school students’ experiences in a special program hosted at Tla’amin Nation regarding traditional skill building were recently showcased for the British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA) membership.

After presenting to the School District 47 board of education on April 20, Keshawn Smullin and Matthew Louie attended the BCSTA annual general meeting to highlight their experiences.

Smullin said last year, he went to a Tla’amin nine-week program called the Traditional Skill Builders program. He said the presentation to the BCSTA and local school board explained what was learned, how it benefited them, and how the learning was interconnected with the school curriculum.

“We talked about how it was such an amazing opportunity that not everyone gets to experience,” said Smullin. “We were doing cultural learning, things like shelter building, learning how to be bear aware and harvesting a deer. We went on boat journeys and that type of thing.”

Smullin said this course has not been part of the regular curriculum and the students’ involvement was like a trial run for the program. He and 11 others, including Louie, were involved.

Smullin said some of the cultural learning included items such as natural medicines, how to create items out of cedar, such as how to carve paddles and construct baskets, and he learned how to make his own moccasins.

“It was a lot to do in nine weeks but we managed to fit it all together,” he said. “It was different every day.”

The program learning was from elders and knowledge-keepers of the community, said Smullin. It was very authentic, he added.

“I wish I could do it again,” said Smullin. “It was an awesome opportunity. I will practice some of these skills that I learned in the future.”

Smullin said the program was a collaboration between Tla’amin, the school district and Vancouver Island University. The program was run out of Tla’amin.

In terms of presenting his experiences in the program to the school trustees association, Smullin said he was nervous. When he saw a conference hall full of people, he said he and Louie looked at each other and started to “freak out a little bit,” but they both calmed down in time for the presentation and became less anxious.

“There were 500 people there, so it was pretty crazy, but it was an awesome opportunity,” said Smullin. “I used to be afraid to present to my classroom, but after doing this, I’ll never be scared again.”

Unique experience

School District 47 board of education chairperson Dale Lawson, who was in attendance for the presentation with local school trustees Jaclyn Miller, Doug Skinner and Rob Hill, said the theme of the BCSTA meeting this year was from grief to medicine, moving forward with good hearts.

“A unique experience was offered to trustees across the province as part of our Indigenous day of learning, which included our association [BCSTA] issuing a province-wide call out for student presenters to engage the audience with ignite talks,” said Lawson. “Our students applied to participate and were subsequently selected and invited to showcase some of their work.”

Lawson said the ignite talks include 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds,

“It is a fast, fun and challenging way to share a lot of information,” added Lawson. “Our students rose to the challenge, representing our community and our traditional skill builders program very well.

“Keshawn and Matthew received a standing ovation from their audience of several hundred. The trustees, as well as district staff members, were absolutely thrilled to be their biggest fans in the audience. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of a crowd that size and we were very proud of them.”

Lawson said the student showcase exemplified commitment to truth and reconciliation and provided evidence that it is more than talk.

“It is specific actions we are taking that honour our Tla’amin Nation partner and ensure their children can retain cultural teachings while meeting academic course requirements,” added Lawson.

District principal of Indigenous education Jessica Johnson said she is enthusiastic about students being offered land-based, culturally relevant learning opportunities.

“The feedback from the students was so positive,” added Johnson, “and we are hopeful to provide this program again in the future.”