Raising his hands in appreciation, Dallas Gus, a Squamish Nation member, speaks to a captive audience of kindergarten and grade one students at Carisbooke Elementary School.
"When I raise my hands like this, I'm saying I see you and I acknowledge you," he tells the children. "It's really important work you are doing, so I raise my hands to you. It warms my heart to see what the schools are doing teaching you about the salmon."
Gus has been invited to the school to celebrate the beginning of the school's Salmonids in the Classroom program. Every year since 1981, schools across the North Vancouver School District set-up salmonid incubator tanks that will allow students to raise salmon from eggs to fry. First the tanks are set-up, then the salmon eggs are delivered and carefully placed in the tanks, and finally in April the salmon fry are released into streams across North Vancouver. This year there are 35 in-class incubators in 23 elementary schools and five secondary schools.
Dallas Gus, a Squamish Nation member, leads a salmon celebration at Carisbrooke Elementary
"This is the 36th year the program has been operating in the school district. From a small beginning, the program has continued to grow and develop into the successful program it is today," said Greg Milner, District Principal, North Vancouver School District.
The program is incredibly rich in its teachings. Students learn the biological science of the salmon lifecycles and ecosystems. They also learn the social studies aspects of human impacts on salmon habitat and preservation efforts. The historical significance of salmon and the connection to local First Nations culture and history are also significant learning opportunities presented by the Salmonids in the Classroom program.
To launch the program this year, Gus is visiting schools to do a traditional Coast Salish celebration to honour the salmon, and the students and school staff who will care for the salmon. He is leading cedar ceremonies where students brush off the incubator tanks with cedar bows to remove any negative energy and place their positive thoughts for the fish. One by one, students take bows of cedar, dip them in a bowl of water and brush the outside of the tank. Throughout the ceremony, Gus sings the Squamish Nation canoe journey song to signify the journey that the salmon and students are on together.
Students hand out cedar bows to their peers
Gus also shares with the students and staff the 16,000-year-old Squamish Nation legend of how salmon came to the Squamish River.
"There were so many salmon in the river that you could walk across the river on their backs," he tells the children.
After explaining to the students the importance salmon still play today for local First Nations peoples, he thanks the students again for their efforts to support healthy salmon stocks. He concludes with the Squamish Nation honour song – commending the children for their efforts.