Athena Bonneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) is in the beginning stage of designing a new school space to hold their Cultural Immersion School. The band is reaching out to community members to help them develop it.
“There’s definitely a need in the community for a new school space,” says Sandie Derrickson, the OKIB school design coordinator.
“Right now, we’re trying to figure out the design. We are getting input from the community and staff on what they would like to see in the school.”
The building that currently houses the Cultural Immersion School was formerly an Indian Day School.
In addition to residential schools (with the last one closing in 1996), the Canadian government relied on day schools to assimilate Indigenous children. Day schools differed from residential schools, because kids attended during the day, but lived with their families and remained in their communities.
The Cultural Immersion School, which opened in 2006, provides students the opportunity to learn in sqilxʷ cultural and language learning.
OKIB held a Zoom meeting on Dec. 3 to introduce community members to the school design process. Some concerns were raised from older community members regarding the new school, Derrickson says.
“It’s not that they don’t want a school, they want a school, but it has to be run by professional teachers,” she explains. “When they went to school, it was horrendous for them.”
During the two-hour discussion, members also said they would like to see a high school-sized gym, a learning room, more storage space and have the capacity to provide classes up to grade 12 for students.
“There’s definitely a need for a special needs room or a learning room, just to have that separation for the students that need that extra help,” Derrickson says. “When you ask the kids, their biggest dream is a gym.”
The new school space will be built on Komasket Park beside the current school.
“The area they’ve picked is a massive park, it’s beautiful and then the kids will be able to use the arbour and have access to the water,” according to Derrickson.
OKIB wants more community input and support. They plan to meet again in the new year to discuss further.