Grade 7 Indigenous students celebrated as they look forward secondary school
On May 18, 2023, family, caregivers and loved ones gathered at the Croatian Cultural Centre to celebrate Grade 7 Indigenous students who are wrapping up their time in elementary schools. The annual, Moving Forward ceremony celebrates the accomplishments of students, the guidance of their educators and support of their communities as students continue ahead to their secondary school journeys.
Three Elders from Sḵwxwú7mesh Squamish Nation drummed in the more than 100 Indigenous students in attendance. After the Squamish Elders provided a few congratulatory words to the group, Musqueam leader Morgan Guerin delivered a welcoming address and teaching to students.
“We all know that we come from mother earth. In ceremony, we put a blanket down and you step on that blanket because you have to be away from Mother Earth for a bit. You have to step away from your mum, you have to be a bit uncomfortable so that you can grow. When you step off that blanket again, you are somebody new. I encourage everybody to not let fear set in but know that you’re going to grow. Once you cross this blanket,” said Guerin, gesturing to center stage, “You’re going to step off somebody new. Somebody stronger, somebody who learned and somebody who’s ready.”
Stella, a Grade 12 student from Vancouver Technical Secondary delivered a speech to the Grade 7 students, letting them know what to expect as they continue their learning journeys. “High school can seem really scary, but I promise it isn’t,” she said to them. “You’ll meet so many people, so many friends and teachers who are there to support you. You’ll learn so much more about yourself throughout the five years.”
In addition to community members of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, Vancouver is home to the third largest urban Indigenous population in Canada with approximately 53,000 people with ties to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities from across the country. Indigenous students of the Grade 7 class of 2023 reflect this diaspora with students belonging to many diverse and rich Indigenous cultures throughout Canada.
Jessica, a student enrolled at Queen Alexandra Elementary this year, said she was excited but a little scared about moving on to secondary school in September. Continuing a family tradition, Jessica crossed the stage wearing the same red blanket cape that her older sister wore when she took part in her Grade 12 graduation ceremony, continuing a family tradition.
While some students expressed a little apprehension about the next phase of their learning journeys, they also shared a sense of excitement and anticipation about moving onto the wider halls of secondary school. And all shared a deep appreciation for the support of loved ones who boisterously cheered as names were called. After collecting their certificate, each student paused for a moment at center stage for a photo and a smile, then walked off the stage as someone new, someone stronger and someone ready for the challenges ahead.