A group of Pemberton Secondary Schools (PSS) students is getting into the spirit of the holidays—and they need your help.
Students in the school's Aboriginal leadership class are putting together holiday hampers, which will be distributed to families throughout the area, in Pemberton and a number of Stl'atl'imx Nation communities.
"We are tying to help the community," explained Chris Wells, an Aboriginal support worker at the school.
"This is one of (the class's) initiative," said Wells, whose Ucwalmícwts name is Qaq/wam, which translates into young wolf. "This is one of the things they wanted to do."
He sees a lot of leadership qualities in this year's batch of students. "We support them in becoming leaders," said Wells, explaining the aim of the Aboriginal leadership class. "We work to try to give them a voice."
Aboriginal leadership classes are offered at schools across School District 48 (SD48), including in Whistler and Squamish schools.
The classes culminate in the 24 Hour Drum, an annual event that brings students together and serves as a powerful celebration of Indigenous culture.
The Aboriginal leadership class, as well as other SD48 initiatives, is credited with helping raise the graduation rate amongst Indigenous students.
In 2009-10, the grad rate for Indigenous learners sat at just 39 per cent for SD48. Last year, that number topped 86 per cent—the highest Indigenous completion rate anywhere in the province.
In explaining the curriculum of the PSS class, Wells said that it exposes students to Stl'atl'imx culture, protocol and Ucwalmícwts, the traditional language of the Stl'atl'imx Nation.
Wells also noted that every class begins with something special: A smudging ceremony.
"We all sit in a circle and do ceremonial smudge," said Wells, explaining that cedar, juniper and sage are burned.
"It kind of helps to make you feel better and more taken care of."
For Steve Evans, a humanities and social justice teacher who co-leads the class (along with Evans and two others), the hamper project presents a great opportunity for students to do something positive for the wider community—for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families alike.
"We're seeking ways to keep our students involved in meaningful community initiatives," said Evans. "They're a really wonderful, supportive group."
If you are interested in supporting the project, donation bins can be found in the Pemberton and District Community Centre, the Pemberton Valley Supermarket and at PSS.
The class is seeking non-perishable food and toiletries, such as shampoo and shaving products.
The bins will likely be in place until Dec. 18 or 19, added Evans, as the group will need a couple days to sort the contents before distributing them to families on Dec. 22.
The students are working with the Southern Stl'atl'Imx Health Society and community contacts to identify families to support.