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Celebrating Indigenous Culture with Students During the Pandemic

With COVID-19 making it difficult for students to gather and celebrate together, the District’s Indigenous Education Program has joined together with Elders, other leaders and educators to find new ways to share learnings and celebrate.

National Indigenous Peoples Day, on June 21, is an important day recognising and celebrating the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Indigenous peoples of Canada. In the week leading up to it, students and teachers were gifted with a video for use in their classrooms from two elders who have done much to support learning and reconciliation within the Burnaby School District.

In the video, Elder Latash Nahanee shared with classrooms that First Nations have been here for thousands of years and that we have many occasions to celebrate:

Our creator has been so generous… there is so much beauty in our world. We have reason to celebrate every day and be grateful for all of the gifts.”

Elder Roberta Price also shared her warm wishes for National Indigenous Peoples Day and encouraged students to celebrate themselves.

I hope that you also celebrate within yourself of your ancestors and who you are as Indigenous people.”

This was a message echoed by Elder Nahanee:

“Everyone has a very special gift. We all have something in ourselves that we can share with other people.”

Watch the video.

This special day is one of the many ways that our school communities celebrate local First Nations traditions and culture and build understanding of our shared history as Canadians.

Given the emphasis on remote learning during the pandemic, Indigenous Resource Teachers put extra effort into lessons that could be shared online, such as this video created by April Strickland exploring contemporary Coast Salish Art.

District Principal of Indigenous Education Rob Smyth says this lesson – focusing on artists such as Susan Point, and providing art projects for the students to try themselves –  is an example of something that brings students and families together through a common sense of place:

This honours the history of Coast Salish People and acknowledges the importance of Coast Salish Art on the lands in which the Burnaby School District resides.”

Another example is an assignment from teacher Jillian Cummings to students in the Indigenous Leadership 10 course, which is available for Grades 10-12. This is the first year the course has been available in an online-blended learning format.

Ms. Cummings asked her students to explore their “personal journey and personal backpack” after reading a section of Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Grey Smith. In it the author invites both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers to embark on a journey of reconciliation. She uses a metaphor to explore how each person should prepare for this journey: packing your backpack. Students were asked to reflect on their own personal “backpack” by answering a series of questions.

Ms Cummings was particularly impressed with the response to the question “who are your allies” by Jasmine Robinson, a Grade 12 student at Burnaby Mountain Secondary, who wants to become a lawyer and study Indigenous Law.


I think my allies are most of my past teachers and all my present teachers. I know the school district I’m part of currently always does their best to make sure their Indigenous students are thriving and doing their best which I absolutely love. There’s a Nisga’a saying Sayt-K’ilim-Goot which translates to one heart, one path, one nation. Meaning we are all one and we’re all on the path of life. I think that applies here as well!”

As we continue our journey of reconciliation as a school district, we have much to learn from our Indigenous youth.

We are also grateful for the teachings of Elders, such as Elder Price and Elder Nahanee. In addition to the video marking National Indigenous Peoples Day, Elder Price also made a video with Elder Glida Morgan – sharing music and teachings for students and families following Spring Break, all with a view to lifting their spirits and building connection through cultural sharing. See it here.


Posted June 2020