Anybody walking into Chilliwack’s future K-8 school for the first time will be stepping into an opportunity to learn.
That’s not just because of the resources and teachers at the ready, but because of its name and its location — and how the two relate to each other.
Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt will open in September 2022, along the edges of the Vedder River at the end of Tyson Road. It runs the length of Petawawa Road, in a long thin strip of property that’s already under construction. It’s expected to be a jewel of a school, for its setting alone.
The site is shoehorned in the midst of UFV buildings, a popular trail system, parks and high-density housing. Indeed, the Chilliwack School District says they had to employ creativity to fit a school and its needs on the sliver of land.
And its name will be every bit as unique as its setting. A naming committee was created by the Board of Education, led by school trustee Willow Reichelt. Out of dozens of submissions came Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt, from a committee of its own that includes Tsandlia Van Ry, a UFV bachelor of education teacher candidate; Donna Arnold, vice principal of Robertson elementary; Keith Carlson, UFV history professor; Tzeachten Chief Derek Epp, and Squiala Chief David Jimmie.
The five combined their years of knowledge and passion for local First Nations history and education.
They explained in their submission that historically, the area was used as a lookout for the community of Indigenous people who lived nearby, the Ts’elxwéyeqw (Chilliwack) people. Their submission broke down the meaning of the words, linguistically and culturally. Now, they hope by sharing this information with the community, and naming a school in this way, more of the city’s Indigenous history can be known and shared.
So what does it all mean?
Stitó:s translates to ‘place of crossing.’ It refers to a specific site near where the Chilliwack River breaks through between Promontory and Vedder Mountains to meets the Vedder River. It was at this site that the Ts’elxwéyeqw people constructed a tall tower to serve as a lookout for coastal raiders, according to the book Being Ts’elxwéyeqw. The lookout symbolizes the community responsibility to take care of, and protect one another.
But the tower was also where people looked out for friends and family visiting from other areas, giving a chance to prepare to greet them.
“In this way, the word Stitó:s represents not only a locally grounded placename that recalls an important aspect of Chilliwack history, but a symbolic commitment to both protecting children and providing them with opportunities to learn from those who carry knowledge,” the submission explained to the naming committee.
Lá:lém totí:lt directly translates to ‘house of learning.’
“Lá:lém totí:lt … is holistic, inclusive and representative of the traditional culture of how Stó:lō people learn as a community versus the traditional titles of elementary-middle school designations,” the submission continued.
The committee was surprised and pleased to learn their submission had been chosen by the Board of Education.
“We put our heart into something and didn’t actually expect something to pan out,” Van Ry says. “We knew there would be a lot of submissions and you never know where people are at and if they’re ready for something totally outside of what the district has had so far.”
She said acknowledgement should go to all of the educators in Chilliwack who have laid a “phenomenal foundation” in K-12 classrooms across Chilliwack.
And the power of language is so strong, she says, that when people walk into the school they will immediately be asking questions, like ‘what is the translation?’ and ‘where does that come from?’
“This is a learning opportunity for everyone,” she says.
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