Elsipogtog First Nation school kicks off the year in regalia

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Educator Lenore Augustine, Principal Melissa Dedam and Vice-Principal Marina Milliea outside Elsipogtog First Nation Community School. (Oscar Baker III/CBC - image credit)
Educator Lenore Augustine, Principal Melissa Dedam and Vice-Principal Marina Milliea outside Elsipogtog First Nation Community School. (Oscar Baker III/CBC - image credit)

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.

Submitted by Justine Simon
Submitted by Justine Simon

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.

Submitted by Sheena Sock
Submitted by Sheena Sock

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.

Submitted by Darlene Augustine
Submitted by Darlene Augustine

"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.