Eagles fly overhead as primary students drum a First Nations' song to thank four local carvers. The carvers stand, cloaked in blankets, in front of the newly erected Welcome Figure (Kayachtn) they carved at Ridgeway Elementary School.
"The carvers have a gift. They connect with the Creator to bring his teachings to life through carving," said Alroy Bucky Baker to students, staff and guests who gathered to honour and celebrate the new Welcome Figure. Baker, a Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation member, was leading the Kayachtn blessing ceremony.
The Kayachtn project was spearheaded by the Ridgeway Aboriginal Education Committee as a way of engaging the entire school community in rich learning of Aboriginal culture and history, and to respect the First Nations heritage and traditional territories on which the school is situated. The project was a very hands-on initiative. Under the guidance of Skwxwú7mesh artist Darren Yelton, all 565 students in the school, and more than 60 staff members and parents, helped carve and paint the Welcome Figure.
At the celebration ceremony, a flurry of hands popped into the air when Stewart Gonzales, a Skwxwú7mesh Nation member, asked the students who took part in creating the Welcome Figure.
"You are amazing! You are simply amazing! I want to thank you for helping the master carvers create this beautiful Kayachtn," Gonzales told the students. "And to the master carvers, you are teaching these students so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This helps us – the residential school survivors – heal. It helps us have faith in our community."
Throughout the year, the entire school was engaged in the Kayachtn project in a multitude of ways. Not only did they do the carving and painting, but they also actively fundraised for the project. Students raised money by bringing in toonies to receive an entry into a draw to throw a pie in the principal's face.
"The whipped cream pies were delicious," joked Dean Yeo, Principal, Ridgeway Elementary. "I'm so proud of the students and how connected they are to this project. They truly understand that the Kayachtn represents that everyone, regardless of race, religion, or gender, is welcome at Ridgeway and has the right to feel safe and part of our family."
The Ridgeway Parent Advisory Council, the North Vancouver Recreation Commission and the school district Aboriginal Education department also supported the project financially. The North Vancouver School District is committed to increasing the understanding and knowledge of all educators and students of Aboriginal culture, history and ways of knowing, in order to enhance the learning environment for all students. The Welcome Figure at Ridgeway is a powerful example of this commitment and is also a project that the entire community can enjoy.