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We’re taking Reconciliation to heart…

Students at F.W. Howay elementary school participate in a school-wide Powwow Dance as part of their annual Aboriginal Week celebrations…


Highlights of our Learning Journey 2017-2018

Living Cultures…

July 2018 – It’s mid-April, and out in the field at École Lord Tweedsmuir elementary school, 350 students are standing in a cool spring rain. The last note of a drumming song has faded. In the silence. Aboriginal Support Worker Roslyn Swanson offers a traditional smudging ceremony for the school-wide garden project.

It’s a moment of calm and reflection.

Teacher Julie Alava invites the students to imagine First Peoples living here, the salmon in the river below, the Elders as their teachers – and the land as their responsibility. Each of the students places a rock in their new garden riverbed, and with it a dream for their garden.

It’s as if two centuries have melted away in New Westminster.

From Powwow dancing to salmon feasts, and from smudges to traditional rites of passage, students across the district are experiencing the living cultures of First Peoples.


Students at École Lord Tweedsmuir elementary school  place rocks in a newly created riverbed for their garden…


Digging deeper for meaning…

Year by year, students and staff are “digging deeper to find more meaning in Indigenous voice and perspectives,” says Bertha Lansdowne, district Aboriginal Education Coordinator.

Many teachers are incorporating traditional talking circles, sharing myths and stories, or exploring identity in relation to Canada’s history with First Nations.

All learners are on a journey to increase knowledge of Aboriginal history, culture and perspectives. That’s the goal we adopted this year with the guidance of our Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee.

In answering the call for reconciliation, we are also seeking to understand the responsibilities of a shared colonial past.

At t F.W. Howay elementary this spring, students joined voice with children from the Shuswap Nation via recorded video to sing a song about residential schools. The words captured what it must have been like for children to be forcibly taken away from their homes, “put in the dark, and left all alone.”

It was a moving school-wide assembly addressing cultural and personal loss at an age-appropriate level.

Students at Queensborough Middle School took the historical experience another step. They staged a tableau of a pre- and post-contact First Peoples village with the guidance of Facilitator Brad Marsden, of the Gitksan Nation.

The interactive Residential School and Colonization workshop saw students take on roles such as Elders, Warriors, and Clan leaders. The experience encouraged them to understand how they might see differently, think differently and behave differently. It was a major step challenging preconceived ideas of Aboriginal peoples.

At the high school level, more than 140 students took part in a special screening of the movie Indian Horse, about a boy who survives an Indian Residential School, becomes a hockey player and confronts racism, stereotypes and personal trauma.

The film raises complex questions cultural and personal loss – and invited students to rethink Canada’s relations with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

The journey towards understanding takes many steps – but it has begun.


The Aboriginal Education staff at New Westminster Schools provide academic, social and cultural support for Aboriginal students  – and inspire learning throughout the district…


Reclaiming pride, affirming identity…

The emphasis on Aboriginal perspectives in BC’s redesigned curriculum is a response to a “call for action” from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the residential school system and the forced removal of 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children from their families and communities for assimilation into the dominant culture.

As part of the process of healing, New Westminster Schools is committed to helping our Aboriginal students develop pride, confidence and self-esteem through the affirmation of their ancestral identity. The district Aboriginal Education team supports improving school success for the district’s more than 300 Aboriginal students, as well as engagement in a number of cultural and social gatherings.

The annual Qayqayt Honouring and Rite of Passage ceremony is a highlight event in our district. The solemn rite incorporates cedar branches, ceremonial blankets, and drumming to celebrate kindergarten, grade 8 and grade 12 students at significant stages in their lives.

” We are all on a journey,” said Bertha Lansdowne, Aboriginal Education Coordinator with the district for more than 14 years.  “We too are reclaiming our identities, our cultural practices, and our voices. It’s tremendous growth for everyone….”


Aboriginal Education Co-ordinator Bertha Lansdowne participates in a Powwow Dance at Lord Kelvin Elementary School this spring…