In a move to better incorporate First Nations culture at the Wickaninnish Community School in Tofino, 13 food murals have been hung around the facility’s garden displaying the Nuu-chah-nulth words of various plants and animals.
Spearheaded by Paula Robertson, Tofino Community Food Initiative school garden lead, the project was born out of a desire to celebrate the Indigenous plants around Tofino.
“I definitely wanted to see more representation of the Indigenous food here,” said Robertson. “I think it's important for us all to know what is growing in our own backyard that we can use as food and medicine.”
After securing several grants and wading through COVID-19 set-backs, the year-and-a-half project wrapped up in time for the end of the school year and was celebrated through a traditional ceremony on Tuesday, June 22.
As part of the ceremony, Grace George, First Nations support worker for School District 70, guided student Mary-Jane Amos through reciting a traditional prayer learned from Tla-o-qui-aht elder Levi Martin.
“Praise the light of day Creator, praise the light of day Creator,” George said, translating the prayer. “We are pleading with you Creator – give us strength, keep us strong. Help us to stand with dignity, honour and respect.”
Through her role as a First Nations language and culture educator, George said she tries to encourage the students to live by those words every day.
Recently graduating from the University of Victoria with a diploma in Indigenous Language Revitalization and a certificate in Indigenous Language Proficiency, the 67-year-old translated all 13 words into Nuu-chah-nulth.
They serve as a reminder that the garden sits on Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s hahoulthee, known as traditional territory, George said.
The inclusion of traditional words also helps to promote the children’s connection to the land, she added.
Tla-o-qui-aht artist Ivy Cargill-Martin designed all the corresponding illustrations, and with the help of the school’s art teacher, Chelsey Naka, every student participated in painting the murals.
Looking ahead, Robertson said she hopes to secure funding to include an additional eight murals.
Engaging students with caring for a garden teaches them to be “grateful for what Mother Earth can give us,” said Robertson.
“Hopefully, [the children] walk on this earth in nature with more understanding and more of a connection,” she said. “They know that this is a home, they know that we're the stewards of this home and that we're helping to take care of this home.”