Lives can change in just a few short weeks

By Debora Steel, April 4, 2014

Emcee Aaron Edgar Sr. calls out door prizes at the March 28th graduation ceremony of the a-m’aa-sip Essential Skills program in Ditidaht's community hall. Program assistant Jason Sam smiles as Edgar pauses before the last number.

Photo by Debora Steel

Nitinat — 

Aaron Edgar Sr. stood out as a class leader from the beginning, so it was a natural fit for him to be chosen as emcee for the graduation of Ditidaht’s students from the a-m’aa-sip Essential Skills program. A ceremony was held March 28 in the community.

When somebody asked in class who was on his team, Edgar put his hand up and said ‘You’re all on my team,’ said program assistant Jason Sam. “From that moment forward, that was the class motto from Aaron, that we are all on the same team, we’re all trying to do good things,” Sam said.

See photos from the grad ceremony:

Edgar said he was very proud to be at the ceremony, and prouder still to be representing the class that day. He thanked Sam and fellow instructor Jan Green, who has been with the a-m’aa-sip program since its beginnings in Nuu-chah-nulth territory. She said it was created within the Sto:lo Nation but modified specifically to incorporate the Nuu-chah-nulth-worldview.

“There is no (other) program like this on Vancouver Island,” Green said. Every program she runs is special and unique. Ditidaht’s program ran from Feb. 3 with “amazing, brilliant people, and such a welcoming community,” Green said. The name a-m’aa-sip comes from Lena Jumbo and means “doing something for the first time.”


Edgar described the program as an “eye-opening and awesome learning experience.” And that’s what many of the recipients said about their time in the program. It taught them about themselves and how they react to the world.

“I’ve learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about myself,” said George Thompson. He said it helped with his feelings. The single dad of 15-month-old son Kyle said he wants to make a better life for them both.

Student Dion Knighton said he liked the “True Colors” component of the lessons. It allowed him to understand where his stubbornness came from. He hopes to go on to a culinary arts program.

The grad began with a prayer song and recognition for the many people that came together to support the class, and that included the local daycare which took care of the children of the students so they could attend the program.

“Kleco, kleco. Thank you for all your hard work, all your love,” said Edgar. The students had put together laminated posters called a “Pat on the Back” for the daycare workers, and crafted small gifts. Some of the gym equipment from a-m’aa-sip’s sensory processing gym was also presented to the daycare.

“The sooner that you can get little ones working their brains with many modes of sensory integration, the better it is for them and their ability to learn,” said Green.

Edgar called out Ditidaht’s community services staff to show appreciation, thanking them for helping out through the days and sharing their knowledge.

“These ladies standing in front of us do so many things for the community,” said Green. “There are so many sacrifices that they make.”

Also on the list for appreciation were the drivers, Cecil and Anthony, who safely took the class on the hour-and-half trip over rough roads to Port Alberni for the recent NETP career fair. Many of the students had already got jobs or were getting ready to head off to new jobs at the time of their graduation.

Michael Thompson was the program elder, who helped the students with how to act, walk and talk respectfully.

“I taught them the facts of life,” Thompson told Ha-Shilth-Sa. He taught them how to share and help one another, and to forget about the past.

“It will always be there, but don’t keep grabbing at it,” he said. “It’s a new day every day. If somebody gets mad at you, forget about it. Don’t carry it.” He taught them to talk to the Creator every morning and every night. He told them to set an example for those who are learning.

Other important teachings he shared was ‘Don’t be lazy, finish what you start, and time is precious so don’t waste even one hour.’

Thompson said he learned these things from his own grandmother and grandfather, starting when he was two or three years old.

Special guests were acknowledged as well, including Carrie Cann from Vast alternative school who traveled into the community each Friday to deliver the Choices assessments in Math and English. She set students who wanted to upgrade on the right path to a Grade 12 diploma.

Charmead Schella from Alberni Literacy was also in attendance and brought with her a tote filled with books for the grads and the local lending library.

It then came time to introduce the grads, and as each person’s name was called, there came a large cheer from the community in attendance. Each student was given a folder that contained all the certificates that they had earned.

There were seven in all, including one from Douglas College, where the students now have credits.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Employment & Training Program a-m'aa-sip learners are Phillip Edgar, Shayne Johnston, Mike Peter, Samuel Adams, Dion Knighton, George Thompson, Aaron Edgar Jr., Aaron Edgar Sr., Theresa Tate, Samantha Edgar, Alex Tate, Anna Joseph. Missing from the grad were Jackie Joseph, Wade Lindley, Josh Tate, Donna Edgar, and Crystal Tom.

The day concluded with the students taking part in what Green described as Victory Musical Chairs. Round and ‘round the students went with always one chair too short for everyone to sit when the music ended. The twist came at the end when Green announced that everyone was a winner (from the first person who didn't have a chair) because it's not about being first but taking a chance and trying. Every student received a gift.

In a touching moment, student Sam Adams of Ehattesaht was called up to sing Thomas Marshall’s Love Song. He was emotional as he completed his song, saying he missed singing and he missed his family.