A day of celebration Thursday marked a giant step in the road to resurgence and strength for the Secwepemc language and culture.
Leaders, teachers, students, elders, children and media came from near and far Aug. 13 to celebrate with the Adams Lake band the grand opening of the Chief Atahm High School & Language Centre.
It was a day of excitement for those who have worked so hard for so many years to preserve the connection to language and land.
The parent-driven Chief Atahm School has been operating as an immersion school for about 30 years, beginning with nursery age up to Grade 7 with some Grade 8 and 9 students.
Principal Robert Matthew explained the new building will allow an expansion to include students up to Grade 10 as well as a language centre. The centre will house the people and technology working on curriculum development, which the school has been doing itself since the beginning.
Secwepemc history, language and culture guide the curriculum. Elders, parents and teachers work together.
It’s hoped that grades 11 and 12 will be offered in the near future.
Kukpi7 Cliff Arnouse and principal Matthew both spoke of the importance of language and its connection to the land – to place names, plants and animals.
“This is exciting, it’s huge,” Arnouse said of the new building and expansion to Grade 10, explaining it’s really part of reconciliation efforts.
The federal government contributed $2.7 million to the project.
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, who came to the grand opening and was invited to help cut the ribbon, commended the school for its leadership and success. He pointed out that indigenous students are finally being funded at the same level as non-indigenous students.
30 years ago, parents here in Adams Lake BC advocated for full immersion for their children, to preserve the language and culture of the Secwépemc people.
Today, Chief Arnouse and I cut the ribbon on a new school that will celebrate the Secwépemc Nation for generations to come. pic.twitter.com/gbAF4j6DBA
— Seamus O'Regan (@SeamusORegan) August 15, 2019
Chiefs and leaders from the neighbouring bands – Little Shuswap Lake, Splatsin and Neskonlith – whose children have attended the school for years and in some cases now their grandchildren, showered Chief Arnouse, Matthew, curriculum coordinator Kathryn Michel, the elders teaching and everyone involved, with praise for their accomplishments.
Also present and offering congratulations were North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone and Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison.
More than once it was pointed out, to smiles, that the building, constructed by Horizon North out of Kamloops with engineering from Associated Engineering of Kelowna, was completed “on time and on budget.”
Kukp’i Cliff Arnouse concluded the happy event by remarking: “It makes my heart swell. I’ll be smiling all day.”