Grade 6 Aboriginal students from across the school district gathered at Westview secondary on Thursday for the biannual Ignite camp.
About 100 students from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows attended the two-day event, which runs in the fall and spring.
Students were assigned to one of eight clans named after an animal. Then there was an opening circle before the students started their rotations in a variety of activities that connects them to their culture.
This year students took part in weaving, lacrosse, Metis dot art, wood burning, drumming, archery, medicine pouch making and beading.
“We’ve got some goals that we work on to really try and connect kids more with their culture and their community,” said Jonathan Wheatley, with the School District NO. 42 Aboriginal Education department.
He says the camp, the Ignite program, among other school district initiatives, have proven successful when it comes to Aboriginal graduation rates.
“Of all the districts in the province, we have the highest six-year grad rates of any school district where there is a cohort of 100 students or more,” said Wheatley.
He said 85 per cent of Aboriginal students in the district graduate within six years.
“That’s 16 per cent above the provincial average. It’s not a little amount, it’s a big thing.”
Shannon Adams, from the Katzie First Nation, is an aboriginal support worker at Golden Ears elementary and Kanaka Creek elementary.
She collaborates with the teachers at the schools teaching local history of the Katzie and Kwantlen.
I think that’s one of the good things about working together with other teachers to get local knowledge out there because a lot of people don’t even know about their local nations and where they are. And some of the students even thought they didn’t really exist anymore,” said Adams.
“Also helping some of the kids that are Metis that maybe were displaced from their reserve and don’t know what their background is, helping them find that identity again and that sense of community,” Adams continued, saying that this group of Grade 6 students will go on a trip together in Grade 7 and another in Grade 8.
“It’s helping them transition into high school and also making friendships with different First Nations in the community that they normally wouldn’t meet,” said Adams.
Adams, herself, went through the Ignite program and says it has changed a lot since then.
“We do more in class support and helping the kids,” Adams continued, adding that it is based on a tier system so the higher risk students will get more help from support workers.
Adams says there is a lot that aboriginal students take away from the camp.
“Just being able to try different things they wouldn’t normally try. Just even celebrating the culture. And I think it is the sense of community because all of the Grade 6’s across the school district are here that are First Nations.”