WFN/COTA Indigenous Summit
WFN/COTA Indigenous Summit
For three days in August members of the Westbank First Nations and the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association came together to learn, share, experience and connect with each other. The goal of this summit was twofold. To produce action and commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation process and develop a relationship with our local Syilx Peoples. Before we can indigenize the curriculum and connect with local indigenous peoples, we needed to get to know each other. COTA’s part of the Truth and Reconciliation process was to bring our groups together to learn, to listen, to experience, to connect with the Syilx peoples and the greater indigenous community.
Our journey started with an idea from a learning community amongst our teachers and our Deputy Superintendent’s suggestion. A group of teachers had been meeting for a couple of years and called themselves Living in Circle. They invited me to a meeting to share their thoughts about a Truth and Reconciliation event during our summer conference. At this meeting were key people from the community, University, and SD#23 who shared a similar vision of a Truth and Reconciliation event. Little did I know at this time how a small activity could turn into months of meetings, scheduling nightmares, construction issues, and developing a close relationship with the Westbank First Nations (WFN). A relationship of trust, openness, and a desire to work together to improve education for the WFN children as well as all children in our communities.
The results of our partnership was a three day Indigenous Summit where each day was specifically targeted towards certain goals. Participants signed up for all three days. This was needed to give them as much exposure to the ways and teachings of the Syilx Peoples. Every activity had a reason and was part of who the Syilx People are. They wanted us to experience their culture and beliefs and to understand the importance of this to them. They had us experience sacred teachers that they felt were important for us to understand as we were the teachers of their children. As Elder Rose said, “you may not be able sing our songs, but your soul will remember them”. We started each day with a prayer led by Elder Rose Caldwell. We learned that we are to stand for their prayer. They taught us by doing as in their ways. This was reinforced throughout the summit. Our students learn best by doing. They want to learn and need high standards. Teach them as if they are your own. The Okanagan song was sung and drums were played. Community members joined in. Many participants by the third day were able to join in for parts as well.
On the third day of the summit we were on the WFN beach, standing together in a circle, feeling and being part of place, ready to learn and experience the Water Ceremony as many generations of the Syilx people had experienced. We were ready, we prayed, we sang, we committed to acts of reconciliation to improve the lives of our neighbor and friends; the Syilx People.
We concluded our Summit with a salmon feast and shared our stories, experiences, emotions, and our commitments to acts of reconciliation.