What goes into a name?
A great deal of discussion, if you're talking about Nusdeh Yoh elementary school, the city's aboriginal choice school.
Built on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, the renaming of the former Carney Hill elementary school required 18 months of consultation and a vote to settle on the name Nusdeh Yoh, whose English translation means "the house of the future."
"It was a really long, painful process to come up with a name," said Sophie Gillis, an aboriginal education worker at the school. "We hired a consultant to help us narrow it down to a short list of names and the community voted on it. We hired a linguist to make sure the name was in Lheidli dialect because it is on Lheidli territory and then we had to bring that name to elders from Lheidli."
To officially mark the naming of the school, a buffet feast and cultural ceremony is planned for today from 4 to 7 p.m. at the school, located at 2579 Victoria St. Students and parents, school staff, community elders, First Nations chiefs, School District 57 trustees and administrators, Mayor Shari Green and Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond have been invited.
"It's kind of a big to-do and I'm glad it's finally happening," said Gillis.
Some of the Nusdeh Yoh students will be singing traditional songs, playing native drums and performing dances to reflect what they've learned in school about the Lheidli T'enneh and other native cultures. Salmon, moose, bannock and nawus (Indian ice cream) are on the buffet menu, with food supplied by the Prince George Native Friendship Centre's Smokehouse Kitchen.
Gillis is hoping tonight's events at the school will help explain the concept of an aboriginal school to people in the community and perhaps dispel some misconceptions.
"Some people thought it was just for aboriginal kids and some people were really opposed to it because they thought it was going back to residential schools," said Gillis.
"But the model we're trying to follow at our school is based on restorative practice, based on relationships and when you have close relationships with people you're less likely to cause harm to them. It's about teaching the kids and the adults to take accountability for their actions and come up with ways to fix the problem rather than using a punishment-reward model.
"The kids like being here and they appear to be happier. They are smiling and interacting and communicating with the staff. To me, it's a more welcoming environment, and a lot of parents say that too. A see a lot more parents walking in our hallways than when it was Carney Hill."
Kathy Richardson is the Nusdeh Yoh principal. As a choice school, Nusdeh Yoh has 17 non-aboriginal students among a school population of 166.
"Our students come from all over the place -- we have Carrier, Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Gitxsan, Kispiox, Tl'azt'en, we've had some Objibwe students, and some from areas I can't pronounce," laughed Gillis.
"Some of those parents choose to come to the school because of the cultural component . They want their kids to learn more about traditional environmental knowledge. A lot of people in the community don't understand this is a choice school and they can attend even if they live out of the catchment area."
The school currently offers Carrier language instruction in a Nak'azdli dialect and eventually plans to incorporate more aboriginal languages, beginning at the pre-school level. All students receive instruction in aboriginal history, traditional culture and arts.
"These kids know more about language than I ever had the opportunity to learn when I was younger, and it was my mom's first language," said Gillis, part of the Saik'uz First Nation south of Vanderhoof, whose grandmother was Sophie Thomas, a traditional medicine healer who died in 2010. "My mom never taught it to me back when I was younger because they didn't see the value of retaining it. It's exciting to see the kids learning it now."