Canada: A Cowichan school for Cowichan children

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 12 21:05:18 UTC 2006

A Cowichan school for Cowichan children

By Aaron Bichard The Pictorial Dec 09 2006

Quwutsun Smuneem translated from Hulquminum to English means our Cowichan
children and theres no doubt the small elementary school on Glenora Road
takes its name seriously. The small First Nation school run by the
Cowichan Tribes has been quietly growing and adapting for the past four
years, trying desperately to preserve both language and culture amongst
local children. It really provides a sense of belonging for the children,
principal Maryann Thorne said about the school that only teaches First
Nations children.

Some people say it is wrong for a school to be exclusive, but I feel its
very important for our children and our culture to survive. Its a safe
place with people who only look out for their well-being, and the kids are
able to behave in ways that are culturally appropriate. The school began
with Fran Rose who held a daycare in the Anglican Church basement in 1966.
During the years that passed, Cowichan Tribes saw the need for daycare
increase with high population growth rates.

In 2002, nestled in a remote rural area with large expansion potential,
the school was built to house kindergarten classes. Now, five classes two
kindergarten, two Grade 1 and one Grade 2 are held to accommodate more
than 90 students. The school, built with a main cedar wall to represent a
traditional salmon weir, has dozens of windows, bathing the learning in
light. A fulltime speech language pathologist rounds out the cast of 20
staff members who look after the kids. Id say about 90 per cent of our
teachers are Cowichan, Thorne said. The number of staff is good for the
kids. Theres a lot of one-on-one teacher time.

The school is slowly amassing resources, with its library growing
steadily. It has 18 computers in its lab and a fully furnished kitchen
where traditional fare is cooked regularly. Im proud of this school,
Thorne said. Its a nice feeling to have our own people teaching our
children. Part of the curriculum makes it mandatory for the students to
learn Hulquminum, which they start right away. It doesnt take them long to
understand kinship and be able to name household objects, Thorne said. But
its difficult teaching the language because there are so few fluent
speakers still alive.

Thorne hopes the school will be able to expand during the next few years
to accommodate up to Grade 6, but isnt holding her breath it will happen
right away. Its up to the people giving us the funding, Thorne said.


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