Multicultural Week

A group of BICS educators and parents/guardians formed the BICS Diversity Group several years ago with the intention of its participants learning more about diversity and inclusivity and contributing to making BICS a more inclusive school.

We are also organizing Multicultural Week for March 11-16, 2019.

Preceding the week, the Diversity Group hosted Alden Habacon who offered a workshop for the community of Bowen Island on inclusion literacy. In Mr. Habacon’s presentation, he spoke of the A, B, Cs of inclusion; three key elements for a school, workplace or organization to be inclusive. Organizations that ensure people feel they are treated fairly, where they feel their uniqueness is valued while also feeling a sense of common belonging to the organization, and where they have a voice over decisions, typically have inclusive cultures. The intent of our week is to recognize and celebrate differences amongst cultures.

Mr. Habacon started his talk explaining the difference between intent and impact and our Diversity Group is keenly aware that there may be a difference between our intent and impact with respect to offering a Multicultural Week.

After all, we’re calling it “Multicultural Week”. How much value can be attributed to something that’s only given a week’s focus? On the other hand, if people were to wear poppies every day of the year, would the act of remembrance of soldiers be enhanced or diminished? I suspect the latter. A focused week does not mean that is the only time attention is drawn to a topic, but it does highlight its importance. That is certainly the case with learning about diversity and inclusion at BICS.

Further, what aspects of culture can actually be shared to an audience of 333 children, aged 5-13, all within a short period of time and are these really the most important aspects of culture worth learning about or sharing?

Accessed from “OIC Moments,” March 5, 2019

The “Cultural Iceberg” (attributed to G.R. Weaver) suggests that there are aspects of surface culture, readily apparent to outside observers such as food, flags, festivals, dances, games, fashion, art, etc., and aspects of deep culture, such as attitudes about education, approaches to religion, marriage, raising children, the elderly and communication styles and rules. Although deep culture may, in fact, play a more significant role in the day-to-day lives of different people, deep culture is not easily observable without significant time with someone of a different culture or perhaps through experiences living overseas. And of course, aspects of deep

culture would also vary between people of a particular culture. Deep culture is therefore not something that we will be able to feature prominently in our Multicultural Week; however, deep culture would be a great topic of discussion for families in exploring their own culture. The iceberg offers some entry points for an examination of a person or family’s beliefs that may be rooted in their culture.

Is it worth it then at school just skimming the cultural surface?

I think it is as long as everyone involved knows that is what we are doing. We are not trying to overpromise what will be learned during Multicultural Week. Rather, we are highlighting that the differences among how people live are worth learning about and to appreciate that the culture that students may be influenced by is one of many equally valid ways of living.

Our intent is that students gain some awareness and understanding for some of the differences among cultures, an awareness that cultures don’t just belong to other groups but that we all have been influenced by both the deep and surface cultures of our families, an appreciation that these differences suggest there are many ways of doing and of being, and most importantly, an openness and curiousity for learning more both about their own culture and the culture of others. The impact of multicultural week remains to be seen and as our purpose is to stimulate curiousity this impact may remain to be seen for some time to come.

Orange Shirt Day

What does meaningfully recognizing Orange Shirt Day look like in an Elementary School?

Our BICS Indigenous Education Committee, consisting of teachers and parents/guardians, has been considering that question since our school dipped our toe in the water in 2016 by recognizing Orange Shirt Day via a brief email to parents and as part of a September assembly. Those efforts did little more than to simply recognize the existence of Orange Shirt Day. With a K-7 student population, which in October means 4 year-olds to 12 year-olds, recognizing Orange Shirt Day in a meaningful way is not simple.

Our Committee recognized that with significant differences in developmental readiness, much of the learning should happen in classrooms so the Committee offered teachers a menu of learning related to Indian Residential Schools and supportive, authentic Indigenous resources.

But school-wide learning was also needed. Events and learning that happens school-wide are often identified by students and families as being important and we wanted students to know that recognizing Orange Shirt Day, and learning about Indian Residential Schools in Canada, was important. So, we held an intermediate assembly on Monday, October 15, and a school-wide assembly on Wednesday, October 17. On Monday, we shared the story of Phyllis Webstad, the founder of Orange Shirt Day, noting the inspiring motto of the day, “Every Child Matters” and unpacking the phrase. Grade 4-5 students also shared some of their learning from their classrooms about how the Indian Residential School system contrasted so sharply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On Wednesday, students and staff wore paper orange paper cut-out shirts which had the message, “I will __________, because Every Child Matters.” The point was to impress upon students that we have a collective responsibility for making the statement Every Child Matters true. During our school-wide assembly, we also celebrated a little bit of the Squamish culture with Squamish elder Sahplek, Bob Baker, who shared several songs with us, including “Esḵéḵxw ta sp’áḵwus,” “The Gathering of Eagles,” which students have been learning to sing along with over the last year. It was a great opportunity for students to further develop a personal relationship with Sahplek and the Squamish Nation and to gain a greater appreciation for aspects of Squamish culture and storytelling. Grade 7 students glued the 370 orange shirt cut-outs onto a piece of paper to preserve their “I will” statements beyond Orange Shirt Day. They are presently displayed on a bulletin board outside of the office.

In addition to our efforts with students in school, our committee decided that parent education and community education would be essential as conversations about reconciliation are important family conversations. On October 13, we offered a free screening of the film Indian Horse for the community and several members of our committee shared with attendees a list of authentic indigenous resources related to Indian Residential Schools in Canada that parents and community members could use to further their learning and stimulate conversations. To draw community members to the film, a member of our committee wrote an article for The Undercurrent explaining the significance of the film. Sahplek welcomed attendees to the screening and shared the important message that Indian Horse tells just one story among far too many. Sahplek spoke a little bit about his experiences in residential school as well. Following the film, Sahplek told the audience that while it is important that viewers attempt to contemplate the tragedy and loss of residential schools, it is also important to move forward together positively, and so, he led attendees in a song together. It was a powerful conclusion to the evening.

Indigenous worldviews and learning are embedded throughout the curriculum but Orange Shirt Day – and Orange Shirt Week as we referred to it – provides a specific opportunity for educators, students, and families to make evident a commitment to rooting out discriminatory beliefs and actions that were the rotten core of the Residential School System. For our youngest learners, it is an opportunity to reinforce the point that they matter and that they have a responsibility to their peers to ensure their peers feel like they matter too.

I am grateful to our Indigenous Education Committee for their important work. Thank you Andrea, Beverley, Carmen, Cindy, Fraser, Jane, Katie, Laura, Meribeth, Sarah, Sarah, Simon, and Stephanie.