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Blog: Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Celebrating Wenonah Justin

Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story, and there is a lot to learn from Wenonah Justin.

Wenonah recognizes the value, importance and responsibility to share her story. Her story is powerful, personal, emotional, and some of it is difficult to share.

At a recent Pro-d day with Margaret Stenersen staff, Wenonah shared her childhood and family experiences, aboriginal history, personal artifacts and the lingering effects of residential schools. Learning through the first-hand experiences and perspective of a person you know and respect is much more impactful than reading or viewing information.

Wenonah is from the Nlaka’pamux and Cree First Nations; however, her childhood was different than her ancestors. Her mother, as a child, was forced to attend a residential school. It is difficult to hear about those experiences and see the artifacts, photos and report cards first hand. Her mother’s Aboriginal status was taken away by the government when she married. As a result, Wenonah did not grow up learning the stories and songs of the generations before her. She is the first in her family to speak English as her first language. At our pro-d Wenonah shared a poem she wrote and illustrated with personal photos, It’s Not all in the Past I am the First. The emotional impact of her words could be felt throughout the room.

As a young adult, Wenonah sought to learn more about her Aboriginal identity, history and culture. She learned songs, drumming, Nlaka’pamux and Halq’emeylem languages and how the Aboriginal treatment by the government had an impact. Wenonah feels her ancestors with her, and the desire to do right by them continues to give her strength.

As an Aboriginal Cultural support worker at Margaret Stenersen, Wenonah brings her heart, diverse experience, education and personal knowledge to the students and staff. She incorporates her eighteen years as a Coast Salish drummer and singer and the Halq’emeylem language in her lessons. She has had full classes drum and performs Welcoming, Honouring and Friendship Songs at school-wide and parent Assemblies. She also teaches staff and students about Orange Shirt Day, leads a Coast Salish culture program at lunch and has started Frybread Friday’s.

Wenonah shows strength and commitment to making a difference by encouraging, inspiring and empowering others so we can walk together for truth and reconciliation.

Submitted by Lori Whitman, Acting Principal, Margaret Stenersen Elementary