June 21 is recognized across Canada as National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day to celebrate and learn more about the cultural diversity of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. For Kootenay Lake School District students, the entire year has been filled with a multitude of opportunities for students to learn about and participate in Aboriginal education.
Just a week prior to the nationally recognized day this year, almost six hundred K-12 students from across the district converged at Salmo Secondary for the wuqanq̓ankimik run. A year in the making and planning, the Aboriginal Run/Walk event was a collaboration with the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) Chief and Council and the SD8 Aboriginal Education department staff. What began as an initiative to promote physical activity for youth, the event grew to become a unique opportunity to collaborate and include elders and community members in the spirit of reconciliation.
The Ktunaxa word wuqanq̓ankimik means “to walk with long strides…to take big steps”. It was apparent in all of the preliminary speeches that day that events such as this one are indeed making great strides towards reconciliation. LKB Councillor Jared Basil, speaking to all the students, staff and community members present that afternoon recognized that “We all have the ability to make a difference when it comes to reconciliation, that we can make significant strides, big strides when there is a willingness to be open.”
Danica Weager, District Indigenization Coordinator, was instrumental in organizing the event. With the assistance of additional funding from SportBC, ISPARC as well as a Healthy Schools grant, students enjoyed a terrific afternoon that included a free lunch, a bandana for every runner and several terrific draw prizes such as fitbits, water bottles, wireless headphones and other gadgets.
The opening ceremonies included a welcome to the territory and meaningful remarks from Jared Basil, a welcome from Superintendent Dr. Christine Perkins and a submitted letter from MLA Michelle Mungall, read aloud by Salmo Secondary Principal Jann Schmidt. The Lower Kootenay Band drum group Eagle Bear Spirit then provided an opening song before the students did a warm-up and assembled at the starting line.
Students and participating community members had the option of completing a 1km, 3km or 5km walk/run. The run was immediately followed by a free hot dog lunch and then a Reconciliation art activity and relay games in the school fields. Despite the heat, everyone seemed to enjoy the music, kinship and physical activity that afternoon. “Movement is medicine!” exclaimed Danica Weager, in the true spirit of celebrating an inclusive approach to Aboriginal education.