Caring about culture in aboriginal girls' groups
It’s a place for young female aboriginal students to hang out, make friends and create crafts, all while learning about their heritage — but it could soon be a thing of the past.
For two years, First Nations girls have been getting together once a week for half-hour meetings in a converted stairwell at Stuart Wood elementary in downtown Kamloops.
“We like crafts, we’ve made our name tag, we draw pictures of each other — we just like having fun,” said Janelle Cavanagh, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student who takes part in the group meetings.
“I joined because I’m First Nations and I wanted to learn more about my culture and who I am.”
Seven Stuart Wood students take part in the girls’ group — and a similar program runs at Lloyd George elementary.
“It’s more that they’re able to be in an environment of trust,” said Val Taylor, First Nations education worker with the Kamloops-Thompson school district, who co-ordinates the girls’ groups at both schools.
“Just being a girls’ group, the girls have an opportunity to share things they wouldn’t share if there were boys around.”
Taylor has been running the group since last school year, but she said it might not be back in September.
“It all hinges on the budget,” she said.
“We’re just told when we come back in September if we’re going to have a girls’ group or not.”
Unity Summer, a 10-year-old Grade 5 student at Stuart Wood, said she enjoys the social aspect of the group.
“I can meet with people I haven’t met before,” she said.
“We have this friendship bond and we let our creativity go wild.”
However, it’s not just arts and crafts as the girls also learn about First Nations culture.
“I’ve never actually learned anything about my culture before,” Summer said.
“We’ve learned [Secwepemc words for] colours and numbers.”
Taylor said the group offers young native students a unique opportunity to learn about their heritage among their peers.
“It’s for them to actually acknowledge their identity,” she said.
“It’s a great way for them to identify who they are and where they come from.”
Securing funding for the girls’ groups is a key priority for Taylor, but she is also hoping to get aboriginal boys’ groups off the ground.
She said she’s been running “unofficial” boys’ groups at Stuart Wood and Lloyd George — meaning there is no money set aside for them.
“But, you need a draw,” she said.
“You need the snacks and whatever else — you need something to get them there.”
Taylor said she hopes the groups will mean higher Grade 12 completion rates for First Nations students in the next five to 10 years.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve,” she said.
“We’ve got to keep them.”