Understanding Aboriginal culture, eradicating racism

Youth agency joins city, health service to mark national celebration day

The aromas of freshly fried bannock, bison burgers and salmon burgers will permeate the courtyard of Richmond City Hall, while the OSKAYAK (meaning family in Cree) drummers dole out some beats.

The Aboriginal graduating classes of Grades 7 and 12 will also be recognized in a ceremony.

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For the first time this year, Richmond Youth Service Agency's (RYSA) Pathways Aboriginal Centre has merged with the city, the school district, Vancouver Coastal Health, Richmond Museum and Richmond Public Library to celebrate National Aboriginal Day this Friday, June 21.

"The OSKAYAK committee (youth council) at RYSA had a big hand in planning the event," said Jelica Shaw, the Aboriginal youth centre coordinator. "They're really excited about it because usually they only showcase their skills and what they've learned within the RYSA community.

"This event gives them a chance to reach out to the greater general community and be in the spotlight."

The afternoon, from 3 to 6: 30 p.m., kicks off with an opening ceremony including words from Mayor Malcolm Brodie, elder James White and district superintendant Monica Pamer. The event features workshops and traditional games, a performance by the Urban Heiltsuk Dancers and B.C. writer Larry Nicholson as a co-MC.

For Shaw, National Aboriginal Day provides an important opportunity for the culture.

"It's one step towards eradicating racism," she said.

"The more people know about something, the less hostile they are towards it or the less scared they are by it. They understand more."

The Richmond School District approached RYSA to co-partner the event in order to further increase this cultural understanding.

In the 20112012 school year, the district signed the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement, which was enacted in the 2012-2013 calendar. The agreement strives to better integrate the Aboriginal learner and include First Nations studies in the general curriculum, according to Shaw.

Before the agreement was tabled, Aboriginal students were being pulled out of class to learn about their culture, while the regular curriculum's approach was not very in-depth.

"I think it's really great that this was signed," said Shaw. "It's important to integrate First Nations education into every classroom. Students don't feel bothered or different for being pulled out and it allows everyone to learn the culture and ask questions."

Shaw hopes the same will happen as various members of the community gather to celebrate the Aboriginal culture this Friday.

yrobertson@richmond-news.com

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