In front of the brand new school that bears her name, Donna Gabriel Robins spoke of the honour of such an experience, but also her own family’s painful history with the residential schools.
Robins recently retired from a 35-year career in education in the Fraser Valley, including 26 years with the Langley School District’s Aboriginal program. She was one of the earliest educators involved with programs for Indigenous youths in local schools.
Flanked by her family, including her sister, Chief Marilyn Gabriel of the Kwantlen First Nation, Gabriel Robins said she and her husband had visited the school site recently, and she was a bit overwhelmed to see her name on the building.
Robins became emotional when she spoke of her family, including her mother, who is a residential school survivor.
“She was my inspiration,” Gabriel Robins said.
“Do you think it made her weak? No,” said Gabriel Robins. “She is a very strong lady.”
In her opening remarks about the school, B.C. Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside spoke about reconciliation, and the discoveries of unmarked graves at multiple former residential schools across Canada during the summer.
Gabriel Robins picked up on that, and on Whiteside’s mention that there was still hard work to do.
“When I heard you say there is hard work to do, because of what has happened to our little ones who never came home, and two of the little ones are our aunties – Auntie Hazel and Auntie Winnifred – who Marilyn and I never got to meet. We never got to love them, hug them, none of that.”
She spoke of the strength of residential school survivors who came into the Langley School District to begin the Aboriginal program during its inception.
Gabriel Robins said she knows there was a lot of hard work ahead of those in the district now.
Chief Marilyn Gabriel spoke after her sister, and joked that although she’s retired now from the school district, Gabriel Robins will be kept busy educating and sharing her knowledge within the Kwantlen community – she dubbed it the “Freedom 95” program for elders.
The new elementary school has space for 550 students and opens after Labour Day to its first classes of students. It is located in the fast-growing Willoughby area.
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