Vancouver students spend week here soaking in Salish culture

Vancouver’s Bayview students listen to author Sylvia Olsen Friday during a cultural exchange project the class participated in last week. - courtesy Gina Wane
Vancouver’s Bayview students listen to author Sylvia Olsen Friday during a cultural exchange project the class participated in last week.
— image credit: courtesy Gina Wane

Her own love of knitting and admiration of the Cowichan sweater is what inspired Vancouver’s Bayview Community School teacher Gina Wane.

Wane recently facilitated a cross-cultural class project in Cowichan.

Wane’s Grade 6 and 7 students visited the Warm Land last week, hopping a ferry to visit Penelakut Island earlier in the week then hosting a tea honouring Cowichan knitters at the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre on Friday.

“Since September we have been studying about the Coast Salish people...,” said Wane. “I am a knitter and an admirer of Cowichan knitting since my youth. While visiting the island I saw that knock-off Cowichan sweaters were being sold in the shops.

“This catapulted me on a mission to teach my students about Cowichan knitting so they would appreciate and admire the Cowichan people and their culture.”

Wane researched and read everything she could on Cowichan knitters.

“Wanting to make the Coast Salish the theme of our year, I found a novel Counting on Hope by Sylvia Olsen — a novel which partly takes place on Penelakut Island.”

Olsen’s historical book, which takes place in the early days of colonization on and around Penelakut Island, formerly known as Kuper Island until 2010, was the perfect fit for her student’s studies.

Learning from Olsen’s novel led to next stage in the project.

“One day during discussions in the class, I mentioned that we should invite some Cowichan knitters to come to our school for an in-class field trip. One of my students, Hannah, shouted out from the depths of a twelve-year-old, ‘Why don’t we go there?’

“I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Wane called the elementary school on Penelakut. Principal Roxanne Harris was glad to help.

“After consulting with the Chief’s council and a teacher at the school, the project was put into motion,” said Wane.

The students spent four days with the Penelakut Island students and community.

“One of my students, Charlotte, leaving the ferry last night said, ‘Gina if someone asked me what was the most surprising thing about the trip it would be that we spent more than one hour on welcoming us to Penelakut and thanking us for coming. That was so cool.’”

The city students got a taste of the Penelakut school’s talking circle, how to introduce themselves in traditional fashion, archery, sewing, Coast Salish wool and weaving, Metis rap, cooking Indian fry bread, First Nations music and drum making.

A day was also spent in Victoria at the Legislature and the Royal Museum and the Spaghetti Factory.

On their last day of the trip, the class stopped by the Qwu’tsun’ Cultural Centre where they hosted a tea for the knitters.

“My students had made paper Cowichan sweaters,” Wane said.

“As a perfect ending to a magical four days, Sylvia Olsen, the author of the book we read, captured the students for forty-five minutes telling her story of how she ended up living with the Tsartlip People as a white woman married to a First Nations man and with children of mixed heritage.

“There are so many more magical moments such as a double full rainbow as we left the Island, an eagle soaring in a circle above us while John, our tour guide at the Qwu’tsun’ Centre told stories at the totem poles, children’s hearts opened and were touched by love.

“All the students have had their lives touched and changed.”

Wane’s class is in the process of making a short film from raw footage captured during the trip.

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