Aboriginal family gathering helps promote wellness

Central Elementary hosted a demo of First Nations dance forms and regalia at the Aboriginal Family Gathering event on Mar. 1.

Dancers Nicole

Dancers Nicole

Central Elementary celebrated health, family and culture on Tuesday afternoon.

The school gym was bustling with students and parents during their Aboriginal Family Gathering event, one of three that the school hosts each year.

As a collaborative effort between the school and Fraser Health, the theme of the recent gathering was health and wellness. More than 28 service providers were present to educate parents about the healthcare services available in the community.

“We bring the service providers in so that it’s easy, for families who might not seek it out on there own, or know where to go,” Principal Leslie Waddington explained.

The kids were there to learn as well. Each student was participating in a scavenger hunt, visiting the tables to ask questions and complete activities to fill out 12 boxes on their passports, which were later submitted into prize draws.

As they collected clues, they learned the basics of Canada’s Food Guide at one table, the Play Boxes that are set up in the community at another booth, and tried out some healthy snacks and drinks at another.

“There are many layers of purpose to these gatherings, Waddington explained. Overall, they’re a celebration of culture.

“We really want to to help our aboriginal families feel welcome and comfortable at the school,” she said.

Central Elementary serves the downtown core of Chilliwack. Nearly half of the students at the school are aboriginal in descent.

“Family welcoming events encourage parents and families to be part of the school, which means they’re better able to support their children and become better partners in their childrens’ education.”

Students held history in their hands as they checked out treasures at the Chilliwack Metis Association table, like the porcupine quill box, the handmade carving set and cedar boxes, the moccasins and the beaded medicine bags.

They then were greeted by a welcome song from the Williams family, and a demonstration of three First Nations dance forms.

Local Aboriginal Educational Assistant Nicole Aquash lead the group of seven young Cheam dancers, who were dressed in traditional First Nations dance regalia.

Nicole joined Annelyn Victor (12) and Georgia Bernard (9) in “jingle dresses,” which are adorned with rows of metal cones. The metal traditionally came from chewing tobacco can lids, a trading good.

“Listen to the sound, it sounds like rain,” Nicole said before the three girls chimed across the floor with delicate footwork. Each jingle dress had a unique design to showcase the individual personality of the wearer.

Sisters Michaela (9) and Nikola Victor (5) were “fancy dancers” when their turn came. They wrapped a shawl around their shoulders, which resembles wings when their arms are outstretched. The girls fluttered like butterflies as they circled the room.

Wearing brightly coloured fringe, young gentleman Dustin Bernard (9) and Elijah Victor (7) rounded out the demonstration as “grass dancers.” Their footwork resembled stomping the ground, as though they were stomping down the arena grass before grand entry into a powwow celebration.

Once the dancers made their exit, families enjoyed delicious, homemade bannock and a hearty dinner, prepared by Marilyn Ryan, Yvonne Tumangday and youth who were learning the recipes from the elders.

“It takes a committed partnership of parents, schools, and the community to meet the needs of every child,” Waddington said.

All Central Elementary families are invited to attend the gatherings, and Aboriginal families from neighbouring schools are encouraged to join them as well.

The next event will be held in the Spring.