Vanguard Secondary students and staff work together to plant sweetgrass and other vegetation important to Aboriginal culture. (Special to Langley Advance Times)

Vanguard Secondary students and staff work together to plant sweetgrass and other vegetation important to Aboriginal culture. (Special to Langley Advance Times)

Langley students absorb Indigenous wisdom with planting

More than 60 students planted sweetgrass

A Langley high school is setting an example for the community with the growth of its truth and reconciliation-themed programs.

When students of Vanguard Secondary decided to join together and plant native vegetation around the school’s amphitheatre on last year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, they didn’t know that their efforts would garner support from all over the community.

Principal Patrick Thomas said that the school leaders received “tons of questions” around the plants and the reconciliation themes they used to talk about the traumatic experiences of Indigenous children with Vanguard students.

More than 60 students were involved in the school’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day event when they planted more than 40 saplings important to First Nations.

The staff talked about Indigenous history and one of the school’s Aboriginal support workers shared that the students were surprised to learn about the truth but were also proud to see the Indigenous culture growing.

“Our people were kidnapped, and everything we knew was taken,” said one of the students while reflecting on what he learned through the event.

“Happy to see our culture growing,” said another.

Thomas said that idea to organize Aboriginal-themed activity came to the leadership team after they did a literary review of the book Braiding Sweet grass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

He added that they looked for an “authentic opportunity” to incorporate Indigenous wisdom on plants into a school activity. The planting event was timed to tie in with the nation’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

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“When we used salmon to fertilize the sweetgrass, it brought back to me how we are all connected,” said a Vanguard student.

Joanne Abshire, a Langley School District spokesperson, said Vanguard Secondary is unique in the district. She added that it is an alternative school, that focuses on supporting students beyond the scope of traditional secondary schools.

The school also offers therapeutic and restorative services to have a “trauma sensitive” conversation around Aboriginal culture and cultural medicines.

“Seeing our students and staff laughing and working together, helped everyone feel belonging and trust… which made the difficult conversation about the truth and reconciliation easier,” said a Vanguard Secondary staff member.

The staff members also acknowledged the Kwantlen, Katzie, Matsqui, and Semiahmoo First Nation land and said they are honoured to work, learn, and live on the unceded traditional territory on which the Langley School District operates.

The school is planning on making the event a bi-annual one and bring in more plants and vegetation important to Indigenous cultures.

Thomas said in the spring, the school will focus on strawberry plantation, which in many Aborginial cultures is considered is important and “connected to the heart.”

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He added that all the knowledge was taken from Kimmerer’s book.

“Everyone at school is excited for the spring and waiting for the snow to melt as the flowers and blooming sweetgrass as it has a thematic connection with reconciliation process,” Thomas explained.

“We are hoping that the learning space will continually be used to incorporate our Aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation educational program themes and our therapeutic generational trauma services.”

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