A Whitehorse school celebrated its silver anniversary this week, as Elijah Smith Elementary marked its 25th year with its annual start-of-school feast and open house.
"The majority of our community, Kwanlin Dün First Nation, attends this school," says Jesse Dawson, a councilor for the First Nation and member of the school council who has grandchildren and a great grandchild at Elijah Smith.
"I think there was a concerted attempt right from the beginning to make sure this school reflected First Nations history and culture," he said at the feast Thursday night.
But, it's not just the culture, traditions, language and history that make the school special. It's that anyone is welcome to participate in it, said Dawson. The other 50 per cent of the students at Elijah Smith, she said, "come from above us" — referring to the neighbourhood of Copper Ridge, which is located above the school.
"We're sharing culture at this school," said Dawson. "And that's really important because non-native people need to know what our culture is like, you know?"
'It's great to see our culture and traditions being reflected in our school'
The school is named after a Kwanlin Dün elder who started the Yukon Native Brotherhood — a group that took the document Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to Ottawa in 1973, kickstarting modern-day treaty negotiations in the territory.
At the feast, primary-aged children — both First Nations and non — were dressed in dance regalia. The Chundӓy K'ànát'à Dancers performed for the crowd during dinner.
Returning graduates came to the school for the evening to serve dinner, more evidence of the community culture promoted at Elijah Smith. That wasn't lost on Wright, who retired from the school after 16 years as principal. He called his time at the school "a labour of love," saying that he could have stayed for many more years.
Kwanlin Dün chief Doris Bill attended the feast. As a child, she went to a residential school in Inuvik, and says she wasn't exposed to culture in a school setting.
"A lot of our people grew up in that institutional setting," said Bill. "So it's great to see our culture and traditions being reflected in our school, and seeing the children enjoy those activities."