On Nov. 5, leaders from local First Nations and the Sooke School District (SD62) celebrated the ceremonial groundbreaking for two new schools in Langford’s Westhills neighbourhood.
Come 2022, Pexsisen Elementary School and Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School will serve West Shore’s growing population.
“As we gather today to bless the grounds for the two schools to be built here, we say thank you,” T’Sou-ke Elder Shirley Alphonse said as she blessed the land. “May the children who attend here have wonderful learning years.”
In an opinion piece, SD62 trustee Ravi Parmar said the names of the two schools were gifted to the school district from the Songhees and Sc’ianew (Beecher Bay) First Nations. Pexsisen, from the Songhees First Nation, means the opening of hands or to have one’s hands open. It is pronounced puck-see-sung. Centre Mountain Lellum, from Sc’ianew First Nation, has two meanings. Lellum, pronounced lay-lum, carries the meaning of house and the idea of community where children are raised. Centre Mountain is the result of a treaty settlement between Sc’ianew, Metchosin, Langford, provincial and federal governments.
“It’s no secret that our First Nations communities in Canada have been devastated with the loss of their language and culture. … Government used education as a means to remove First Nations children from speaking their language, their mother tongue, and having that sense of connection to their culture and community,” Parmar said at the ceremony. “What I know I’m most excited about is having students see the use of the language of their local nations and feeling a real deep connection to their language and culture and seeing that reflected in their school and in their school district.”
Elder Butch Dick of the Songhees Nation said pexsisen is an important word in the Songhees culture that takes on a special meaning in a school.
“It means two years from now children will be welcomed into the building with open hands,” Dick said. “It’s also a sign of gratitude and showing gratitude … to everybody involved in the construction of the building.”
He said it also means protection, which the teachers, principals and vice principals will extend to students in the school.
Chief Russ Chipps of the Sc’ianew First Nation said Centre Mountain Lellum means a place of coming together.
“Metchosin, Langford, Beecher Bay; we all stood together on that mountain and made a deal of coming together – equality,” Chipps said. “I’m hoping that gift can be translated down to the children of the school.”
Parmar said the 500-seat Pexsisen Elementary will have a neighbourhood learning centre attached to it, which other groups will occupy to offer services to the community. It will also have child care spaces. He said constructing the 700-seat Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School has been at the top of the school district’s list for many years and, with the partnership of the City of Langford, will have an all-weather playing field for students to use.
Thursday’s ceremony ended with school district and First Nations leaders digging shovels in the ground to conclude the groundbreaking.
“The board of education and everyone in the Sooke School District is very much looking forward to welcoming students, families, staff and our community to these new schools when they open in September of 2022,” Parmar said in his editorial. “The connection our schools make with the land and the communities is a legacy we are making today that will be carried on for generations.”