A ceremony Thursday morning at W. J. Mouat Secondary honoured two students who have been selected as the district’s aboriginal role models.
Tasha Ellis and Jake Firlotte were selected for the award from all the aboriginal secondary students in the Abbotsford school district.
The 40-minute traditional Sto:lo ceremony began with a drummer in full regalia leading Ellis and Firlotte into and around the school gym.
The pair were wrapped in traditional blankets, symbolizing that they have warm hearts.
Ellis and Firlotte each stood on four blankets that had been laid one on top of each other on the floor to represent new “sacred ground.”
“Witnesses” then offered words of encouragement and praise to the pair.
The ceremony concluded with Ellis and Firlotte handing out the blankets on which they had been standing to people of their choosing.
After the ceremony, the teens both said they felt honoured to have been selected for the award.
“It’s been an amazing experience, really shocking to see everyone being so supportive,” Ellis said.
Firlotte said it was overwhelming to have such attention focused on him.
“I’m just very happy. I’m glad everyone got together for this. It’s just an amazing experience,” he said.
Michelle Schroeder, aboriginal teaching assistant at W.J. Mouat, said the teens are deserving of the recognition.
“They’re the kind of kids that their peers really recognize as role models,” she said.
Ellis, a Grade 12 student with Cree background, has struggled with a learning disability, but has worked hard to overcome it, Schroeder said. The teen is on the honour roll and has earned an academic scholarship.
Earlier this month, she was among 15 students who accompanied Schroeder on a trip to Ottawa, where they met with politicians and aboriginal leaders.
Ellis is active in sports, including soccer and track and field, and plays the clarinet in the school jazz band.
“She’s a very diligent girl … She just gives her all,” Schroeder said.
Firlotte, a Grade 11 student from the Sts’ailes Band (fomerly Chehalis Indian Band), is a top-ranked wide receiver and defensive back with the Mouat Hawks football team.
He is also a track-and-field athlete, and has previously received aboriginal awards in the areas of athletics, citizenship and academics.
Firlotte volunteers in the soup kitchen at the Salvation Army.
“He’s just an incredible kid. He’s always smiling. He’s the quintessential nice guy,” Schroeder said.
Two role models are selected each year, and are nominated by the district’s aboriginal teaching assistants, youth care workers and staff members at their schools.
Posters of Ellis and Firlotte will be placed in every school in the district, acknowledging their accomplishment.