Cowichan Tribes to open its own school district dedicated to language and culture


The tiny students of Miss Tommy’s kindergarten class in Quw’utsun Smuneem school sang proudly and fluently in their Hul’qumi’num language Tuesday.

The young generation of Cowichan Tribes members are learning the ways of their people — and pride in culture — at their own Indigenous school in Duncan, after years of it being suppressed for their ancestors.

“Then they’re going to learn how to treat others in the future,” said Quw’utsun Smuneem teacher Marlene Tommy.

Quw’utsun Smuneem is a Kindergarten to Grade 4 Cowichan Tribes school, that has been operating since 2003.

“Just to see them talking Hul’qumi’num in the classrooms, in the gym, in the playground. It is remarkable,” said Tracy Sylvester, the Hul’qumi’num program lead at Quw’utsun Smuneem school.

The program is about to get a lot bigger.

Cowichan Tribes has just voted to create its own independent school district, with the Dididaht First Nation and two more, as Indigenous communities take back control of their children’s learning.

“So we’ll create a board together, and we’ll agree on what the curriculum will look like that we’ll deliver out of all of our schools,” said Coun. Stephanie Atleo of Cowichan Tribes.

It’s a breakthrough for Atleo, who is trying to learn her language as an adult. According to Atleo, she lost it as a small child, when her grandparents stopped speaking it, fearful that they would be punished if they did.

“It will be a few years before we are fully implemented into this process but we’re putting together the resources now and hitting the ground running,” said Atleo.

“We’re in exciting times. I see a revitalization, awakening of our language,” said Sylvester.

As children take their teachings home, and inspire parents and grandparents it was stolen from, to speak Hul’qumi’num again with pride.

Accomplishment years in the making, that’s already seeing exciting results.

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Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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