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The Aboriginal program at L.A. Matheson Secondary is receiving a financial boost, thanks to a donation of $7,501 from the Canada India Education Society (CIES).
CIES executive director Barj Dhahan presented a cheque to the school from money contributed through the "Leaders of the Heart and Mind" summer fundraiser held by the charitable organization, which featured L.A. Matheson teachers Gurpreet Bains and Annie Ohana as guest speakers. (Dhahan is also the founder of the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature, with its youth award created in partnership with L.A. Matheson).
"There's a lot of collaboration that's come with the relationships we've developed over the last few years with outside partners who are interested in supporting our students," said principal Kirsten Farquhar. "Initially, it was through Punjabi culture but then in learning from our teachers where there is lots of passion for Indigenous communities, that led to their idea for this summer fundraiser for the Aboriginal department."
The school's Aboriginal program aims to improve the success of Indigenous students by advancing literacy; increasing awareness and understanding of aboriginal history, traditions and culture; enhancing students' sense of belonging; and increasing the graduation rates of Indigenous students. It also works to increase Aboriginal content in the curriculum in a way that benefits all students.
"Right now, the focus is interweaving the Indigenous ways of knowing into all classes and all subjects, but we've found we need to start with the student voice themselves," said vice-principal Sue Boucher. "We need to step up and create a school that is relevant, respectful, creates belonging, and that's a lot about our work. We've come in this year to really try and ensure that we empower and create belonging and community."
One of the recent efforts to further recognize Indigenous history and culture has been Grade 12 student Skarlett Ford's design for the school's orange shirts, taking the L.A. Matheson Mustangs logo and incorporating Indigenous influences and symbols.
"The idea of the Mustang with the war paint is supposed to signify strength," said Ford. "In Indigenous cultures, the horse meant power, wealth and survival. Painting the horse was a sacred act, and in doing so, it was believed it would enhance power for the horse and rider, both physically and spiritually. With everything the victims and survivors of residential schools have overcome, it shows nothing but strength and power against residential schools."
Some of the symbolism in Ford's design includes three stripes on the horse's nose (meaning overthrowing a settlement), an arrow (victory), circles around the eyes (to strengthen its senses), and zigzags (representing speed and stealth).
"The design simply came from the question, could we make our own T-shirt," said Farquhar. "Annie immediately thought of Skarlett and she met with me once just to get an idea of what we were thinking. She did some research and then worked with Sue in terms of graphic design, and together, they made her vision come to life."
Congratulations to L.A. Matheson Secondary on your successful fundraiser, and to Skarlett Ford for her outstanding orange shirt design!