“Raising the Secwepemculecw flag symbolizes School District 83’s recognition that our district is on the unceded and ancestral territories of the Secwépemc people.”
These words from Anne Tenning, School District 83 Principal of Indigenous Education, summed up the significance of the ceremony that took place on Friday, April 30 at the District Education Support Centre in Salmon Arm.
COVID-19 protocols meant that Tenning emceed a small gathering of representatives and witnesses who came in person for the flag-raising, but many more were watching online.
Beginning the ceremony was a welcome to the territory from Neskonlith councillor and knowledge keeper Louis Thomas, who spoke in the language of his ancestors. Lily Anthony from the Adams Lake band offered a prayer.
Neskonlith councillor Cora Anthony said she was honoured to attend and described the occasion as a dream of hers and many other people.
“A lot of our kids will come to school and see that flag and just hold their head up and be proud of who they are,” she said.
Anthony noted that her fellow councillor Louis Thomas uses a Secwépemc word to describe all of B.C. as unceded territory. She said people should realize that, and that everyone needs to work together, with the government, and pass on the education to the children so they will be able to work hand-in-hand, “like we should have been doing for a good many years. This is just an historic moment, not only for me but for all our people.”
Adams Lake councillor Gina Johnny, who grew up and graduated from school in Salmon Arm and works in the school district, recognized the work of the Indigenous departments which have been supported by the bands over the years, all the students who have worked to graduate, and the support workers who do so much around culture and education.
Darrell Jones, Splatsin director of education, recalled how when he first started working in education, the school district did not acknowledge the Secwepemc territory. Now, so much has changed, he said, thanking the school district and the bands for all their work.
Patti Berthot with the Salmon Arm Metis Association expressed appreciation for the Metis being accepted within the community and looking forward to building a strong education for students. She expressed thanks for the opportunity to honour the Secwepemc flag and territory.
School district trustee Marianne VanBuskirk pointed out that the flag was designed by a former District 83 student Travis Marr, who graduated in 1988 and is a cousin to Ranchero teacher Shannon Seed.
She said the flag-raising was a big step in building a relationship between the school district and the Secwepemc people, “especially knowing that every school in School District 83 will be proudly displaying the Secwepemc flag.”
Superintendent Peter Jory spoke about history and how the Indigenous Education department has, over the years, with the guidance of the district’s First Nations Education council, achieved many successes.
He said the graduation rate of Indigenous students was last year within the top 10 in school districts across the province, not far from the rate for non-Indigenous students. And, he acknowledged, there is still work to do to create a school district that is equitable for all.
As Neskonlith composer Tara Willard sang and Louis Thomas raised the flag, the sun shone its way through the clouds to mark the occasion.