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Looking through a social justice lens

Ensuring equal access and opportunities for all community members

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The Project Heartsong program, now in its second year, brings in elders Gerald Gabriel and Martin Thevarge, from Mount Currie and D’Arcy to teach all students in the school traditional hand drumming, singing and dancing. Students have learned to make their own drums and there is now a class set for the children to use.

The project, which is taught within the school’s music program, has been very successful, according to Signal Hill teacher Doris Zurcher.

“First Nations students are being validated for who they are. There is a big difference between being able to express your culture, and being validated for it.”

The goal of the project has been greater cultural awareness between First Nations students, who come from Mount Currie, D’Arcy and the Southern Stl’atl’imx Nations near Baptiste Smith, and other cultural groups. Drumming is now being used to start school assemblies.

“When the drumming begins, the Native children really brighten up,” continues Zurcher. “This is what some of them hear in their own homes.”

Dave Walden, Chair of the Board of School Trustees for the Howe Sound School District, is encouraged by the initiatives being made at Signal Hill to foster cross-cultural awareness.

“Twenty years ago, this would not have happened on such a large scale,” he says. “Parents would have been much more reluctant to allow their children to participate in this kind of program. Now at PAC meetings, parents are open to it and encourage it.

“If we want to have peace in our world, we have to start by understanding one another,” he says. “I have always believed that change needs to start in the schools. It isn’t going to solve all our problems but it is a step forward.”

Chalmers recognizes that much needs to be done. “We have only been focused on social justice as our guiding principle for the last 18 months or so. We are at the beginning stages, and the forums were a good starting point. We got action items out of the discussions.”

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