Mi'kmaw students returned to school in Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick this week wearing smiles and traditional regalia.
The Elsipogtog First Nation Community School opened its doors on Tuesday, a day they call Traditional Tuesday to encourage its 371 students to take pride in their culture. The day is marked by students and school staff wearing regalia, moccasins and traditional jewelry.
"It was really nice to see, because the tradition that we're doing here, it continues," said Melissa Dedam, the school's principal.
Dimitria Dedam, 8, started Grade 4 this year and said wearing a ribbon skirt was "cool."
"[I liked] that there is ribbons on it," said Dedam.
Educator Lenore Augustine helped start Traditional Tuesdays four years ago, after seeing Neqotkuk, Tobique First Nation, start something similar. Augustine worked as a cultural educator at the time, and wanted to help instill a sense of pride in the students.
"As educators, we're role models, so we promote that kind of environment and they're going to grow up learning this and I think it's important," said Augustine.
She said when it first started maybe five or six kids showed up in traditional gear, but on Tuesday close to 75 per cent of the students were wearing some sort of regalia. Augustine said it was heartwarming to see and she hopes it continues to grow.
Vice-principal Marina Milliea said the staff are encouraged to wear ribbon shirts and skirts, including the non-Indigenous staff. Milliea said it's part of creating a welcoming environment.
Now, Traditional Tuesdays have spread to other organizations in the First Nation and Milliea said some schools in neighbouring communities have adopted it as well.
"We're proud and we love it," said Milliea.
Students eat in cafeteria
Dedam said the school is following New Brunswick health guidelines and the school opened up without COVID-19 protocols. She said they also met with the Elsipogtog Health Centre to plan for the school's reopening.
She said last year students ate their meals in their classrooms but with the protocols lifted, the students are now able to socialize freely in the cafeteria for the first time since the new school opened last year.
"It was amazing watching them walk in with their smiles and excitement to be in our cafeteria for the first time," said Dedam.
She said the school will adjust its safety plan if the province changes course and with suggestions from the community health centre.