An Introduction

The Land and Language Based Learning Program can be found at Ladysmith Secondary School. It was created by Coast Salish elder yutustanaat (Mandy Jones) and William Taylor. Brenda Kohlruss and yutustanaat (Gena Seward) have also joined our team. We deliver BC Ministry of Education approved Curriculum through traditional Coast Salish teachings and ways of learning.

This gathering occurred in ceremony June 2019 as we unveiled our eagle figure in the foyer of Ladysmith Secondary School.
Teacher MagazineVolume 32, Number 2
November-December 2019
Here is an article about our work published in the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation Teacher Magazine.

uy shqalawun: Good hearts and minds A morning with Ladysmith Secondary’s Land and Language Based Learning Program

By Lauren Donnelly, BCTF staff

Students and teachers gather in the Land and Language Based Learning Program classroom at Ladysmith Secondary School in local 68. There are no desks.

In this classroom, students and teachers meet in a circle. There’s an atmosphere of reverence as snuneymuxw* Elder Mandy Jones, whose traditional name is yutustana:t, opens the class in hul’qumi’num.

snuneymuxw First Nation born and raised, hul’qumi’num is Mandy’s traditional language, and now she’s teaching it to a classroom of Grade 10–12 students. Each day, one-by-one, students take turns greeting one of their classmates in the circle in hul’qumi’num: “uy’netulh,” good morning and “‘ich ‘o’ ‘uy’ ‘ul’,” how are you?

The class was co-created by Mandy Jones and William Taylor. It’s a combination of learning hul’qumi’num, gaining hands-on Coast Salish cultural experiences, and learning to care for the Earth. Mandy shares the traditional knowledge her grandmother taught her, teaching the language within the context of hands-on activities, because that’s how she learned growing up. William connects the work in class to BC’s new curriculum in the context of each student’s learning.

hul’qumi’num is one of 34 Indigenous languages in BC that are endangered because of colonialism. The province of BC has committed $50 million toward Indigenous language revitalization to be administered by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council over three years.

“Our language is sleeping,” Mandy says. “But when we start putting the seeds of language inside our students and to hear them—how they know how to acknowledge somebody and show respect—that starts a ripple effect.” The effects of Mandy’s work earned her a Premier’s Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Education in 2018.

William has been teaching for 27 years. He started out teaching English and humanities in Surrey before moving to Ladysmith. He has taught many courses since then, primarily drama and English.

Learning isn’t prescriptive in the Land and Language Based Learning program. The program is based on an Indigenous model, which honours students’ individual gifts and interests. The class’s snuwuyulh (teachings) are assessed with the following four relational accountability measures:

  1. Are you present and prepared?
  2. Are you listening?
  3. Can you tell the story back?
  4. Can you identify and share your gifts to contribute to the work of the class?

William remembers when they began the class Mandy asked him if they should start creating lesson plans. “I said, ‘Would you do lesson-planning traditionally?’ and she said ‘No’,” he laughs. “And I was like, why would you do it now?”

Sometimes, he says, they “wing it.” Allowing room for the unexpected helps them to listen to students’ needs. Of course, there are ontological and epistemological challenges to walking in both the world of the colonial educational structure and the world of Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

“Our First Nations students are taught so many years in the colonial way of learning,” says Mandy. “It’s hard for them to come back into learning hands-on their own teachings.”

It’s a challenge that Mandy deals with by taking things one step at a time. She says it takes patience for students and administration to understand new ways of teaching.

Grade 11 student Kayla and Grade 12 student Jennifer knew hul’qumi’num before taking the class. Mandy is their grandma, which makes her a different kind of teacher. “There’s more comfort with this class,” says Jennifer. “Making sure everyone is included and feels welcome.”

t’uxusthumpsh, a hul’qumi’num language sharing event, is an example of the kind of inclusive atmosphere that comes from learning Indigenous languages. This year students from Vancouver Island schools will gather at Ladysmith Secondary to share their knowledge through songs and storytelling. It’s an event that Kayla and Jennifer say they look forward to.

“It’s cool listening to the non-Aboriginal people speak the language too,” says Kayla. “Because they know it so well from this class.”

Mandy says it’s important for her grandkids to see their grandmother being successful. She has an education in the colonial world, and she practices her culture. She is proof that it’s possible to be strong in both worlds as we learn to bring them together into harmony.

William and Mandy encourage students to try new things and to focus on their gifts. One student dreams of becoming a hul’qumi’num teacher. He leads workshops to introduce new vocabulary to the group. Some students have discovered they have a knack for weaving, and others like Josie, a Grade 11 student, are encouraged to develop their artistic abilities.

Today Josie is working with a classmate to make a gift for stz’uminus artist John Marston. They’ve written a message in hul’qumi’num that they will paint on to cedar.

Thanks are in order for John, whose traditional name is qap’u’luq. Around four years ago he agreed to help bring Coast Salish representation into the schools. Using wood from one old-growth cedar tree, he’s created house posts for the foyer, and an eagle sculpture that represents strength, truth, and the transformative nature of education.

Transforming the school’s foyer is just one example of how the land-based course has facilitated connection and collaboration in the school. It’s a point of pride for Mandy, William, and their students, and a long time coming. William says it took 15 years to bring the idea to fruition.

In the centre of the room there’s a loom on display. Mandy needed a loom to teach Coast Salish weaving, but no one at the school had built one before. They took a trip to the Museum of Anthropology and came back with a design that Ladysmith Secondary’s woodwork class constructed.

Grade 11 student Isabelle learned to weave in the class and discovered she is gifted at it. “When I’m on the loom I forget about everything that might be troubling me,” she says. Before weaving, students learn the entire process of cleaning the wool, combing, carding, and spinning it.

Beyond those hands-on skills, students say the class has taught them a new approach to life. The Coast Salish concept of uy shqalawun—having a good heart and mind—has had a big impact.

“It’s a good idea that the product of your work and the quality will reflect how you felt when making it,” says Grade 12 student Liam. “In this class you have to find your learning spirit—you have to find what you want to do and apply yourself, and it’s a totally different way of learning.”

The class moves to the band room to drum and sing. Mandy co-leads the group with a student to her right. Everyone is engaged and respectful. According to William, one of Mandy’s teachings is that all of us have culture.

“She tells us that we all have culture in our DNA,” he says. “And our learning spirits need to be woken up.”

Mandy’s goal is that students take what they learn in the classroom and use it outside of the school. There is pride in Isabelle’s voice when she says she has taught her mom some words in hul’qumi’num.

The ripple effect is visible. “Now our students are the teachers,” says Mandy. “We are learning to work nutsumaat—together as one.”

*The hul’qumi’num language does not use capital letters.