Pulling Together to Build Community at Bayside Middle School
At Bayside Middle School in Brentwood Bay, they’ve found a unique way to bring community together while working towards truth and reconciliation: paddling war canoes in the Bayside Canoe Club.
“We noticed a lack of Indigenous students joining sports teams, so we asked them to write a letter to share what they’re proud of in their culture and community,” explained Kim Graves, vice principal of Bayside Middle School. “Many wrote about paddling war canoes and how it makes them proud of who they are and where they come from. That’s when we realized we were trying to fit these students into what we believed to be the right athletic opportunity for them instead of opening ourselves up to create different opportunities.”
With this information in hand, Graves and the team realized the importance of providing students with the opportunity to get on the water and paddle canoes. The initial challenge for the program was funding, but when Graves connected with the Victoria Foundation at an event, she learned that grants were available. With help from Landon Underwood, a member of the Indigenous team, and the school’s Indigenous Education principal, Melissa Austin, they received a grant from the Foundation to develop their idea for an Indigenous-led, community-run, canoe-pulling program for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
The Canoe Club highlights the WSÁNE? practices associated with canoe pulling and teamwork while supporting and improving the mental health of students by engaging in traditional wellness practices. The initial expectations were that maybe 20 students would sign up, but nearly 60 children showed up on the first day, and almost all stayed for the duration of the program.
Len Morris Jr., a Master Carver and traditional knowledge keeper, provided support, guidance, and teaching for the students, as well as the use of his family’s canoes. “Seeing the togetherness of the children was rewarding,” he said. “Everyone wants to win, but you have to work together as a team to get there. These are learnings my grandparents handed down to us: everyone has to pull together on the crucial work.”
“This really started to build a community and a connection that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do in a traditional school setting.” — Kim Graves, vice principal, Bayside Middle School
Working Together as One
“The children were excited to pull a canoe because, for many, this was their first time in a war canoe,” said Graves. “They enjoy the connection to the water, to the land, and to the good feelings and medicines that come from the activities and culture, bringing them joy, peace, and healing.”
While First Nations students’ feedback inspired the program, there was a diverse group of students that chose to participate and enjoy the opportunity to learn from and with other cultures.
“Another benefit was the opportunity to meet with parents who may not have been comfortable coming to the school due to historical trauma within the education system,” said Graves. “We created connections and pathways from the school to the community and from the community to the school by engaging with parents — opening our doors and putting our feet into the community while standing together on the shore, vulnerable, available, and accessible in a neutral space as the children learned to pull together.”
The next steps for Bayside are to continue to grow their funding for honorariums for the Knowledge Keepers and find a place to store the canoes. “Our ultimate goal is to build a space for local artists. We’d like to build a canoe shed with a carving space to bring local artists who don’t have access to facilities,” said Graves. “Our kids can participate, connecting with the carving and the canoes and bringing some of that togetherness back here.”