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Trio of Abbotsford students share positive stories of their Indigenous support program

Circle talks and medicine wheels explained by Chief Dan George middle school students
Madison Henry, an Indigenous support worker at Chief Dan George middle school in Abbotsford, shows the board of education via Zoom a medicine wheel project her students are completing. (Screenshot)

Three students from Chief Dan George middle school gave Abbotsford board of education trustees a little insight to their school’s Indigenous program, St’elakw.

Indigenous student council members Tenayah Justin, Julie Tam, and Seth Calihou appeared via video during the March 8 board meeting, along with their vice-principal, Melanie Trudeau, and one of the school’s Indigenous support workers, Madison Henry. The five sat across from each other in a “talking circle,” and demonstrated this traditional way of holding a meeting to the board.

Trudeau explained it’s a way for communities to come to a consensus, and a way of communicating “so everyone is heard and nobody is higher or lower.”

St’elakw is the Halq’eméylem word for circle. (Click here for pronunciation through First Voices.)

Justin presented the group with an eagle feather from her mother, which she said would help the group “feel honest and balanced.”

The students talked about the benefits of the program and their space in the school, which is open to all students and staff. They use the room for a place to decompress, to connect with others, to learn more about cultures, and for forms of support. It’s a place to learn, to grow and to make new friends, they said.

As as thank you to the board for listening to the presentation, the students are currently creating magnetic medicine wheels, which have four coloured sections that represent mind, body, emotion and spirit. The wheels will be delivered to the board members in the near future.

Trustee Shirley Wilson told the students the gift was meaningful to her and that she would cherish it and remember them.

“Seeing you reminds … me, everything I do is for our students in our school district, and I’m really excited to receive the gift and I will remember,” she said.

“When I was a very young girl and I had pleasure of meeting Chief Dan George,” she added. “He was very quiet but even then I knew he was a very smart, wise man. The namesake of your school is someone you should up to.”

Trustees Rhonda Pauls and Freddy Latham also spoke to the students.

“I used the talking circle when I was a teacher in the clasroom,” Latham said. “I found it a very powerful way of making sure everyone had a chance to speak if they chose to do so.”

Board chair Stan Peterson told the students that educators are learning that they “need to listen to students more, and talking circles most certainly give us that opportunity.”

READ MORE: Abbotsford students write thank-you letters to soldiers who provided flood aid


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Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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