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Cowichan Tribes celebrate grand opening of new Yathuy’thut School building

A totem pole hand-carved by Yathuy’thut students was also unveiled during the festivities

The sun shone bright, and teachers, students, and attendees glowed with pride as the new building for Cowichan Tribes Yathuy’thut School and a new totem pole that was hand-carved by students were both unveiled on the morning of May 1.

Many shared heartfelt messages and words to mark the occasion including Cowichan Tribes Chief Cindy Daniels and other guest speakers and school members while the Cowichan Tzinquaw dancers got the celebration started.

“Education is a top priority for Cowichan Tribes,” said Daniels at the event. “We are moving forward with returning full jurisdiction over education to our nation. This new facility and totem are another step in advancing a positive educational legacy for our people, where cultural and academic skills are integrated into the curriculum.”

“It’s exciting to be able to share this day with our staff, students and community members,” said resource room teacher Joyce Rodriguez. “It’s been an honour to observe the students being involved with creating the totem pole.

The Yuthuy’thut training program was started in 1990 as a stepping stone for adults over 19 to upgrade their education as a step towards further education and employment. The school’s mission statement is that through their heritage they will work together for a healthier, stronger, and safer community. All of the teachers at Yuthuy’thut are members of Cowichan Tribes, which allows for both language and culture to be used in all classes.

“In 1990 there was a program called the NEAT program funded by a local First Nations organization, and the goal of that program was to provide an opportunity for community members to gain education and training for employment,” said Rodriguez. “The NEAT program evolved to become Yu’thuy’thut ‘preparing one’s self’ – the adult education school. When Quw’utsun Hi’yi-xwule ‘Cowichan Young Eagles’ began it was connected to the school district alternate program CVOLC 23 years ago. In 2004/2005 the name was changed to Quw’utsun Hu’yi-xule’ and Cowichan Tribes managed it from then on.”

Rodriguez has been the resource room teacher with Yu’thuy’thut for just shy of 20 years. She said that one of the most memorable parts of her teaching journey with Yathuy’thut, which has 13 staff members, has been witnessing students find their strength and passion, whether academic or cultural. She also deeply admires how the entire staff work together for their students and each other with building community.

“Through the process of carving this totem, I gained a greater connection to my culture and confidence in my ability to learn new skills,” said YTT student Saleisha Pelkey-Thorne. “It is my hope that this course can continue to be offered so more students will able to participate.”

The new building at Cowichan Tribes Yathuy’thut School was built off-site and transported to the River Road location during the summer of 2023 to replace the previous building, which was initially only supposed to be a temporary location for Yu’thuy’thut school. Rodriguez said this project was a team effort right from the start and that all the students and staff worked together to prepare for the change and move everything out of their former building.

“When we moved into the new school this year, the staff and students were excited to start fresh in a new space,” said Rodriguez. “It has given us the opportunity to improve our school environment in many ways. It also gives our students a sense of pride and belonging. We are working toward including more on-the-land learning. With this new facility, we look forward to more members of our community enrolling in our school.”

Those who came out for the celebration were invited to stick around for a barbecue lunch while making community connections.

“My main hope is that our community members see the evolution of our school and that we all continue to dream, plan, and expand its capacity to provide quality academic and cultural teaching,” said Rodriguez.

About the Author: Chadd Cawson

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