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Nov 13
École Salish Secondary unveils welcome post & celebrates official opening

Group with post.JPG

A Coast Salish welcome post, carved by Gary Leon (pictured below, right), was unveiled during a ceremony which also marked the official opening of École Salish Secondary.

Though it has been open for a year, École Salish Secondary held its official opening Nov. 12, unveiling a Coast Salish welcome post that will open its arms to students and visitors to the school for years to come.

Katzie First Nation Band Councillor David Kenworthy welcomed guests and dignitaries to the territory prior to a witnessing ceremony involving Chehalis First Nation Chief Ralf Leon, École Salish Secondary teacher Crystal MacInnis and students Bree Bridgen and Diego Wolfvillage.

The red cedar figure was carved by Gary Leon ("Talekwitsen") and stands just inside the school's main entrance facing a wide-open common area.

Artist Gary Leon.JPG"I sure love the energy in this school. It's a beautiful school," Gary Leon told the hundreds of students prior to his welcome post being unveiled.

"When I worked on the post, I'd work on it early in the morning… and I always made sure I had a clear mind. When we chose the post out in the forest, we did a prayer for it because I knew if was coming into a school.

"Once I started, everything just flowed."

The figure is female, representing a mother of children, with arms extended to welcome and give gratitude to all learners in the school's care. She is wrapped with a traditional Coast post close up.JPGSalish blanket, woven by senior aboriginal support worker Paula James, which serves as a protective garment. The figure also wears a traditional skirt made from the bark of a red cedar – considered a tree of life by First Nation peoples.

"It is so appropriate – and significant – to have this wonderful Coast Salish welcome post at the entrance of this beautiful new school, welcoming our students every morning," said Surrey Board of Education chairperson Laurie Larsen.

"I thank the Coast Salish people for being so welcoming and so willing, to not only share the Salish name with this school, but also to share your culture, to the benefit and enrichment of our students and indeed, the entire school community. It's vitally important that all of us respect, engage and honour Indigenous communities, and this event is such a great example of that."

École Salish Secondary, a French Immersion school, opened in September 2018 with 850 students from Grades 8-11. This fall, following the addition of Grade 12, there are about 1,050 students and the school is excited to have its first graduating Class of 2020!

Principal Sheila Hammond noted what an honour it is to have been given permission to use the Salish name by Katzie, Kwantlen and Semiahmoo First Nations, noting the school is also home to several other pieces of indigenous art.

"The school district commissioned nine local Salish artists to provide pieces to be put on glass panels all around the school, signifying the coming together of the Cloverdale and Clayton communities to form our unique Salish community," Hammond explained.

With its modern design and flexible learning spaces, École Salish Secondary features innovative science, wood and metal labs, as well as a learning commons and fitness studio.

Larsen thanked staff, students and parents for their efforts during the past year in establishing a strong school community.

Official opening plaque.JPGTrustees with plaque.JPG


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