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Student documentary focuses on Semiahmoo Secondary’s history with Semiahmoo First Nation

semiahmoo-documentary.jpgFrom left, Mehak Dhaliwal, Dasnoor Kaur, Simrit Mangat and Jasmine Mangat filmed and produced Truth and Reconciliation: A Tribute to the Semiahmoo First Nations, chronicling the First Nation's history with Semiahmoo Secondary. (Photo by Jacob Zinn)

A group of Semiahmoo Secondary students is shining a spotlight on its school’s reconciliation efforts with the Semiahmoo First Nation (SFN) in the form of a new documentary.

Grade 12 students Mehak Dhaliwal, Dasnoor Kaur, Jasmine Mangat and Simrit Mangat are the filmmakers behind Truth and Reconciliation: A Tribute to the Semiahmoo First Nations. The 21-minute doc came about as a class project in the International Baccalaureate program, challenging students to create something that involves the community and highlights creativity, activity or service.

“Our initial idea was to make a documentary, but we were unsure of which topic we wanted to do it on,” said Dhaliwal. “Our history teacher recommended the idea of looking into the history of the Semiahmoo First Nation. We started exploring the topic and we realized there were a lot of issues that we could touch upon.”

The documentary took three months to film and edit, and features interviews with SFN Chief Harley Chappell, South Surrey/White Rock Assistant Superintendent Lynda Reeve and numerous Semiahmoo Secondary staff on the ongoing reconciliation process.

“We knew some teachers who were really involved in the reconciliation process, they had a lot of communication with them,” said Kaur. “We also met Chief Harley Chappell at the National Indigenous Peoples Day event and started talking to him, and we were able to get an interview with him to get his perspective.”

While the school’s reconciliation efforts have included hosting a reconciliation ceremony to address the school’s misuse of the SFN’s name and renaming the culturally inaccurate Semiahmoo Totems to the Semiahmoo Thunderbirds, the students found that many of their peers were unfamiliar with the difficult history between the First Nation and the school.

“Still today, I think a lot of students don’t know why our mascot was changed – it was really a problem with misrepresentation of the Semiahmoo First Nation,” said Simrit. “I think that’s why it was necessary to make the documentary.”

“From our perspective, the interviews were necessary because a lot of students weren’t aware of what was happening,” said Jasmine. “Doing these interviews really helped us understand what this process was looking like and why it’s taken so long. My English teacher told us it was a 10-year process, and we didn’t really know what was necessary in order to make these changes.”

The students said the documentary has been well received by both members of the SFN and Semiahmoo Secondary staff, prompting the creation of a lesson plan package to accompany the film so teachers can screen it in their classrooms and better engage students on reconciliation.

“We’re really happy that the documentary will reach so many people,” said Dhaliwal. “It’s ended up being a project that we can all be really proud of.”

To watch the documentary on YouTube, click here.

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