On a warm spring afternoon, more than 400 eager kids are assembled in the gym at Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary School. The festivities begin with melodies sung and played by Grade 3 and 4 students, including Canoe Song. Then the Sissan family swirls into the room, drumming and dancing in their striking red and black regalia. And the kids are spellbound.
The Sissans are Coast Salish people whose daughter attends grade 2 at Fleming. Then Shane Pointe appears at centre stage. Pointe is the Vancouver School Board's Aboriginal Knowledge Keeper and Elder in Residence. He bestows a great honour on the students and staff when he gives the school a spirit animal - the wolf. The children cheer.
Fleming is the first Vancouver elementary to receive this distinction. In Coast Salish culture, the wolf symbolizes intelligence, leadership, loyalty and responsibility. Pointe's unexpected announcement is an auspicious start to Aboriginal Education Week at Fleming.
In mid-April, Fleming teachers and administrators organized this special week of activities to celebrate First Nations heritage and its significance for their school community. Over the course of four days, students go through nine stations where they learn about Aboriginal culture through stories, music, games and hands-on assignments. The week culminated with a closing ceremony where the youth presented their art projects.
This is the first time the school has set aside an entire week for Aboriginal awareness, but Vice Principal Doug Styles says he hopes it will become an annual event.