Principal Shawn Lehman is draped with a traditional aboriginal star blanket by Viola Fleury, right, and Amie Martin at an assembly at J.R. Reid School on Friday. Fleury’s daughter Jayna, left, helped organize the donation of the blanket to the school as a cultural initiative. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Jayna Fleury and her mother Viola embrace before Friday’s assembly at J.R. Reid School.
(COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
The freshly hung yellow and blue star blanket inside J.R. Reid School will serve as a welcome sign to everyone who enters, according to school principal Shawn Lehman.
"Our school is culturally changing and we have lots of many different cultures to celebrate within our school," he said.
Lehman said he supported the idea of hanging a star blanket inside the school after a Grade 6 student approached him with the idea. Part of an Ojibway tradition in student Jayna Fleury’s family is that her grandmother sews everybody their own star blanket. Jayna thought it would be a good idea to donate her star blanket to her school.
"She said there’s not really anything aboriginal in our school so she said, ‘Do you think we should make a star blanket for the school?’" Jayna’s mother Viola said. "I was so proud of her. I thought it was a really good idea."
For centuries, star blankets have been sewed to honour individuals during life-changing events such as births, deaths, graduations and marriages. While the star blanket has replaced the buffalo robe as a gift of honour, its tradition of generosity remains. To give a star blanket is to show utmost respect, honour and admiration. To receive a star blanket indicates that the giver holds that person in very high esteem for their generosity and accomplishments, which is how Jayna feels about her school, Viola said.
"She wanted to share part of her culture with the rest of the students," Viola said.
Jayna helped her grandmother pick out the colours yellow and blue, which are J.R. Reid School’s colours, and during a special assembly on Friday the star blanket was unveiled to students and staff.
"When aboriginal people come in and they see that it’s almost like a welcoming," Viola said. "They will feel like they are welcome and they belong here."
Jayna said she was nervous leading up to the school assembly but was excited to show off the star blanket to the rest of her peers.
In the two-and-half years Lehman has been at J.R. Reid, Friday’s assembly was the first time they’ve incorporated some aboriginal culture into a student gathering, he said.
"I think this is great that the family has donated such a special part of their culture for all of our aboriginal culture and heritage students to celebrate and see on a daily basis."
Being that aboriginal students make up around 15 per cent of the school’s population, Lehman hopes to do more cultural events like this in the future.
"Now that we’ve been celebrating and showing this as part of our whole school culture then maybe we’ll recognize the aboriginal culture more and more on a daily basis within our school."
Hosting more culture awareness days to celebrate all students backgrounds could be in the school’s future, Lehman added.
Viola said infusing more aboriginal culture into the curriculum will also give students "more of a sense of belonging."
"It’s something that just represents us and shows we can be here, it’s OK," she said. "Stuff like this is going to help hopefully, one little piece at a time."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 13, 2014