Many gathered at Haahuupayak Elementary School on Saturday, Oct. 8 to celebrate the society’s 40 years of providing culturally appropriate education to First Nations children.
First Nations elders, founding board members, students and teachers, both past and present, and plenty of supporters celebrated in the Haahuupayak gym with traditional song and dance, food and speeches from past students, board members and founders of the school.
Attendees had the opportunity to mingle and catch up with old teachers and friends.
“[Haahuupayak] is a great place to learn,” said Martin Watts, long-standing board member of the Haahuupayak Society.
“We’ve created a very, very intense learning environment here, so it’s a good benefit for the kids.”
Watts, whose children attended Haahuupayak School, was nominated to be a board member 16 years ago.
Advocating for the school and children is continuous, said Watts, who strives to help create a solid foundation for Haahuupayak students that they can carry with them to high school and eventually post-secondary.
“Keeping education current is what we always keep moving,” Watts said.
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Deanna Green, joined the society in 1987 and remained a board member for seven years.
“It was a really interesting time in my life and I loved it,” Green said. “I really wanted this school to succeed and progress and now look at this.”
Haahuupayak was established in 1975 after a group of passionate Nuu-chah-nulth community leaders came together to advocate for the creation of an independent school using part of the old Alberni Indian Residential School complex on the Tseshaht reserve. They wholeheartedly believed the district needed an alternative school for First Nations children.
“At that time there was a group of people on the reserve that were restless and concerned about all the kids who were just casualties of the school system…we said let’s form an alternate school,” said Denny Durocher, founding board member of the Haahuupayak Society.
Forty years later, Haahuupayak is the “Place of Learning” for students on and off the reserve from Kindergarten to Grade 7.