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Reconciliation ceremony held at Semiahmoo Secondary

School has vowed to mend relationship with Semiahmoo First Nation after past wrongdoing
Semiahmoo First Nation drummers performed during Semiahmoo Secondary’s reconciliation ceremony. (Jacob Zinn photo)

A long journey of reconciliation took another step forward in South Surrey this week.

Continuing its effort to heal its relationship with Semiahmoo First Nation, Semiahmoo Secondary hosted a reconciliation ceremony on Monday (May 30).

The school community gathered with SFN members, including Chief Harley Chappell, Laurie Larsen, chair of Surrey Board of Education and Superintendent Mark Pearmain.

SFN’s oldest and youngest Semiahmoo Secondary graduates were also present – a symbolic representation of the past and future coming together.

Since 1940, Semiahmoo Secondary has used the Semiahmoo name. However, Semiahmoo First Nation members were not consulted about its use prior to the school’s opening.

Semiahmoo Secondary began the journey toward reconciliation with SFN three years ago, in an effort to understand the historical implications of the school’s “past errors” and to make up for them, a press release issued Monday notes.

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“With today’s ceremony, we seek to conclude a journey to heal the pain of the past and to begin a new journey, walking side-by-side, with our neighbours, friends and family of the Semiahmoo First Nation,” Larsen said.

The event began with attendees sharing a meal together, followed by performances from SFN drummers and a singing group of the Lummi Nation.

Efforts toward change began last autumn, with Semiahmoo Secondary re-designing its logo and renaming the school’s sports teams from the Totems to the Thunderbirds.

Semiahmoo is traditionally spelled as SEMYOME. A teacher at the school is carving a sign out of cedar with SEMYOME displayed across it, to use as a new school sign.

“Joanne Charles, [SFN Councillor] in one of the early meetings, commented on how she wouldn’t come here, that the feelings of what was done had hurt her so deeply that she didn’t feel as though she could come in a building named after her people,” said vice-principal Robert Dewinetz.

He added that his hope is for her and other SFN members to feel welcome and represented in the school and that the ceremony will mark the beginning of that.

The school also announced that an award will be named in honour of Grand Chief Bernard Charles, who led the SFN for 33 years and not only attended Semiahmoo Secondary, but was also the first Indigenous student council president. With the blessing from his family, the award will be presented under Charles’ traditional name, Pa-Kwach-Tun and will be awarded to recognize the achievements of an Indigenous student.


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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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