A small group of Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School students drummed a welcome for dignitaries attending a special ceremony on the school grounds, overlooking the traditional lands of the Syilx people Thursday.
Special guest was B.C. Advanced Education, Skills and Training Minister Melanie Mark, herself of Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway heritage as well as being the province’s first female Indigenous MLA.
She told the gathering her First Nation name, which, fittingly on this particular day, means: “Eagle that passes on to the next generation.”
The minister was in Penticton to announce the $700,000 funding of an aboriginal, community-based partnership training agreement between the Penticton Indian Band (PIB) and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.
There are about 30 students currently taking two programs: heavy equipment operator and environmental natural resources technologist.
Keloine Jack was one of two students who talked about the importance of their studies.
“Education has opened up limitless possibilities, especially for myself,” said Jack, a self-described nerd. “Taking the natural resources program is amazing. I get to learn how things work and how things come together. How grass grows, how trees grow.
“It’s like growing up with all the stories and all the legends and everything we were taught. Everything is connected on some certain level and now I get to learn that from a western standpoint.”
She added that her studies and being in the outdoors has been good for her mental health and she looks forward to one day helping others.
“Coming from this small community I’ve grown up true-spirited and my community has been nothing but loving and welcoming,” said Jack. “I hope that I get to share my experiences from these programs with other kids who are growing up in these (Outma) classrooms.”
Student Floyd Baptiste, who is in the heavy equipment operator program, agreed: “It’s opened up a profession that’s fun to do.
“I speak on behalf of these students behind me that we are very grateful for the opportunity and we are privileged to be in this course.”
According to the minister, those words are music to her ears.
“Everything that I do is about the 21st century. Lifting people up, opening doors, giving them opportunities. The students are going to do the heavy lifting,” said Mark.
“I heard students today talk about how proud they are, how good they are with their hands, how important it is for them to get that kind of western experience linked with their Indigenous knowledge to continue to be good stewards of the land.
“We know that that investment is going to pay off in the people by lifting people up.”
PIB education manager Kathy Pierre described the benefits of the program as “far-reaching,” especially being able to bring students together to learn in their own community.
“Our children are our future,” she said.
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