British Columbia

Lax Kw'alaams community celebrates first ever high school graduation

Lax Kw'alaams (formerly known as Port Simpson) is an Indigenous reserve of about 650 people, 40 kilometres north of Prince Rupert on B.C.'s northwest coast.

'I'm very excited, nervous, jittery, uneasy'

The class of 2017 from left to right: Norma-Jean Sankey, Nikita Wesley, Steve Reece, Brian Johnson Jr., Angel Abrahams, Pamela Auckland, Kelli Dudoward, Cayden White, Taiah Alexcee, and Sabrina Sutherland. (Cora Barak/Facebook)

Over the weekend, the village of Lax Kw'alaams welcomed its first ever high school graduates to the podium.

Lax Kw'alaams (formerly known as Port Simpson) is an Indigenous reserve of about 650 people, 40 kilometres north of Prince Rupert on B.C.'s northwest coast.

The community had previously sent its high school students to Prince Rupert. This weekend, ten students graduated from the Coast Tsimshian Academy.

"I'm very excited, nervous, jittery, uneasy," said graduate Steve Reece.

Reece has two children with his partner, fellow graduate Nikita Wesley. 

Getting to graduation was a struggle.

Steve Reece and Nikita Wesley are among the graduates. (Cora Barak)

"It's been quite hard, especially with school, finding people to watch our kids when we're in school. It's allright because all our family is so supportive and helping out." said Wesley.

Reece — who came back to school after dropping out in Grade 7 — says getting a diploma feels pretty good.

"I had to get my life back on track and I came back to school so I could get a better job for me and my little family that I created."

Listen to the segment from CBC's Daybreak North:

Moving far from home

Like all high school graduates, the students of Coast Tsimshian Academy face the daunting task of deciding what to do next.

For many students, it means moving far from home to pursue post-secondary education.

Angel Abrahams is planning on making the big move to university in Prince George.

"I'm preparing myself to move down there mentally and emotionally it's coming around slowly because I'm leaving my family here... It's pretty hard," she said.

Graduate Angel Abrahams poses with her handmade cedar graduation cap. (George Baker/CBC)

But Abrahams said it's likely going to be permanent.

"I'll come back for visits every so often but I don't think I'll be able to move back here."

School principal Kelly Rambeau said no matter where they go, the grads won't forget where they came from.

"Even if there's no opportunities for them to work on the reserve, there's opportunities always for them to come back and contribute back to the community and be part of the community."

"Whether they're working in Prince Rupert or whether they're working in downtown Toronto, these young folks are very proud of where they're from."

Lax Kw'alaams is on B.C.'s northwest coast. (George Baker/CBC)

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