On March 3, students at Webster’s Corners Elementary hosted a special totem pole raising ceremony inside the gymnasium.
As part of the school-wide project, mixed-age groups at the Maple Ridge school collaborated to create hand-coloured totem poles and learn more about First Nations culture.
“We tried to embed this idea of the First Peoples principles of learning and to link it to the curriculum and do something that the kids are excited about – so this project managed to do it all,” said Ramin Mehrassa, principal of Webster’s Corners Elementary.
“They are in K-7 groups and they did this all together while learning about totem poles, spirit animals and First Nations culture.”
Mehrassa said the school introduced a program called “PEAK” this year that helps students engage in social/emotional learning, which is a key part of the new curriculum. Monthly themes help students better appreciate concepts such as thankfulness, remembrance and kindness. This month’s theme was “animal kingdom” and teaching staff wanted to incorporate Aboriginal culture and perspectives into the topic.
“We talked to the kids about how the First Nations built these poles and how the spirt animals are assembled on the poles in a certain way,” said Lisa Neumann, a Grade 5/6 teacher who helped organize the project. “With the new curriculum, there’s a real focus on making sure we have a First Persons perspective and have a connection to our Fist Nations culture because they are where we started from and we are all interconnected in many different ways.”
After learning about First Nations spirit animals and their different personality traits, students chose the animal that best reflected their personalities and then coloured it on the totem pole.
“We talked about the connection of having a spirt animal and how it connected to the environment and how important it was to have everyone be interconnected together and the importance of the totem pole being representative of us — that we are the solid foundation stacking up together and all of us work together as pieces of the bigger puzzle of our school,” Neumann said. “And that’s what we are teaching with the PEAK program.”
During Friday’s ceremony, Katzie First Nation elder Margaret Pierre spoke to the students about her culture and the significance of totem poles. “It’s very sacred. We do it with cedar – cedar is a Coast Salish tree. I have many family members that carved,” she told the students.
Pierre praised Webster’s and its students for connecting together and working hard to create each totem pole.
“Seeing all of [the totem poles] come up one at a time was just awesome. I am very proud of what I have seen in the school district today, the connection… the teaching,” she said. “My arms go out to each and every one of you for what you have done.”