June 21 seemed the perfect day to hold an official opening of a school named after a local educator and Indigenous elder.
The Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary school community gathered on what was National Indigenous Peoples Day to celebrate the official opening of the school.
The doors first opened to students and staff back in September 2021, but a community gathering was on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was one of the first times for the school community to gather in person with guests in the new building.
The celebration included special recognition to Donna Gabriel Robins, the former Langley School District educator from the Kwantlen First Nation. Family members and district staff shared heartfelt tributes to the long-time teacher.
“Today is an emotional day as a Kwantlen member, as a nephew, because there has been no school named after someone that is still here. And right now, we are breaking history for a woman that deserves this, a Xwelmexw woman, an Indigenous woman, on National Indigenous Day. This means so much to our people and we are going to celebrate today because she is such a wonderful woman,” said Michael Kelly-Gabriel with the Kwantlen First Nations.
The school is named after his aunt.
“She is my hero. She believes each and every one of you here has a gift. And she devoted her whole life, her whole entire life, to make sure every child when she was in her job, sharing her gift every single day, that every child found out their gift,” Kelly-Gabriel added.
As part of the ceremony, Kelly-Gabriel welcomed everyone with drumming and also gave students a short lesson on how to say, “thank you, respected one” in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ which is “hay čxʷ q̓ə, sǝýeḿ.” He led the students in a collective “hay čxʷ q̓ə, sǝýeḿ” to Gabriel Robins.
Members of the school community also recognized the architects and builders of the school by presenting them with Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary branded sweatshirts.
“My initial reaction to the school was excitement because it has two floors. We have more room to move around now, and less opportunities to be squished,” said student Sofia.
“My favourite memory so far at DGR is meeting Donna Gabriel Robins in person,” continues Sofia. “She came to visit us in November when we had our first school spirit day. It was cool seeing so many people wearing our new DGR hoodies. The best part was watching Donna and her husband, Brad, signing autographs. I even got an autograph!” described the Grade 5 student.
“Even with the short amount of time, the building has been a wonderful space for the students and staff to feel very welcome, and fortunate to have this new facility to learn, teach, and grow in,” stated Ho Sun Kim, teacher at the school.
Gabriel Robins addressed the audience and shared an inspiring message to students.
“We, as elders, are always watching,” she said. “We, as elders, are always encouraging, not pushing, encouraging you to do your very best. I want you to do whatever you want when you grow up. You can do anything.”
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