From now on, students, staff and visitors to the Surrey School District Education Centre will be welcomed in the Coast Salish tradition.
Part of the aboriginal education department’s “Tree of Life” project, a pair of Welcome Poles were erected at the south entrance of the building Sept. 16 to recognize and honour the Coast Salish territory, and to celebrate the gathering of the various departments within the school district.
“It’s important to honour our traditional territory and the significance of our aboriginal history and culture,” noted Gayle Bedard, district principal of aboriginal education.
The red cedar Welcome Poles – a male and a female figure – are the culmination of the Tree of Life project, which was launched in the 2010/2011 school year. Working on-site at five secondary schools that also hosted surrounding elementary students, Semiahmoo First Nation carver Leonard Wells was commissioned to carve the poles.
Wells spent a week at each school – Frank Hurt, Lord Tweedsmuir, Kwantlen Park, Fraser Heights and Guildford Park – and was joined by six elders who taught students about First Nations history, culture, language and arts. Curriculum was developed by the aboriginal education department to support the initiative. The project was funded by a $72,000 grant from the Government of Canada through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy.
“The Metro Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Strategy is pleased to support the integration of Aboriginal culture and traditions into the Surrey School District curriculum,” said Jacquie Adams, co-chair of the MVUAS steering committee.
“The carving of these Coast Salish Welcome Posts has provided students and staff the opportunity to learn about aboriginal culture and traditions in a culturally enhanced learning environment. The Welcome Posts will stand through time, symbolizing aboriginal contributions to the Surrey community.”
The project supports two of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement goals: to increase awareness of aboriginal history, traditions and culture for all students; and to enhance aboriginal students’ sense of belonging so they can be successful.
For Bedard, the raising of the poles is bittersweet; after nine years with the district, she’s taking a new position with the Yukon government. She said it will be an emotional departure, but she’s proud of her department’s achievements and grateful to witness the conclusion of the Tree of Life project. Early in the process, Bedard even met with the building architect to ensure the design of the District Education Centre would accommodate the 12-foot, 350-pound poles.
“It’s really humbling to look back to when I first came into the district, to now,” said Bedard. “We’ve truly accomplished so much and I’m leaving with a heavy heart.”