- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

What a party! The hosts were delightful, the food was amazing, and the place was hopping.

St. Mary's second annual Cultural Festival was THE place to be for a very happy hour last Friday. Hosted by the school's BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) group, the event attracted a huge crowd to celebrate more than a dozen cultures representing students' and teachers' families and heritage.

My guide, Olivia LaChappelle, is Chippewa. While she can barely contain her excitement about the festival, she and I take a moment to talk about the red handprints on her bare arms, symbols of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We talk about our tears in reading Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers. “But that is not my culture!” says Olivia, bouncing up to show me the ancient artifacts at the First Nations table and encourage me to have one more taste of smoked fish.

AlethaTaylorThe room smelled scrumptious, and the biggest attraction was definitely the food prepared by the Food and Nutrition class, with some great assistance. The delicious jollof rice I had – a dish made all over West Africa - was made by a student and her mother. From smoked whitefish to plantain chips – treats were from just up the Lake Huron shore to Jamaica and Nigeria. Ms. Attenborough, the Food and Nutrition teacher, tells me that next year St. Mary's will be offering a Food and Culture course, combining practical cooking skills with learning about the cultural roots of the dishes and their importance in the life and traditions of the places they were created.

A Japanese exchange student was doing Aikido on the stage, alternating with demonstrations by Mr. Kim, a science teacher mrkimand Tae Kwon Do Master. Standing beside a national flag with its symbols of peace, balance and harmony, Mr. Kim told me that he feels South Korea and Canada have a culture of respect in common. While Canadians show it with a handshake, he likes to offer the traditional Korean bow to his students.

The lineup to get henna tattoos was the full length of the cafeteria, and lots of cheeks bore national flags and symbols from the facepainting table. Displays showed maps, history and daily life, culture and language of places around the globe. Some students wore traditional clothes and accessories.

mayaOlivia introduced me to Maya Murgelas, the daughter of immigrants from Romania who met in Canada. Wearing a traditionally embroidered dress, dangly gold earrings and a festival hat – “you see, it ties under the chin so it stays on while you're dancing!” - she could not stop grinning with excitement. “When I came to school this morning I was afraid of being looked at and judged, and now – look at me!”, she said, twirling and laughing.

The BIPOC group meets twice a week – sometimes half a dozen students get together to talk about the issues that concern them, or just to hang in a safe space. More than a dozen students came to help plan the Cultural Festival, and more joined in, with representation from First Nations, India, Ghana, Nigeria, and Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Students whose families have come from those places are now living in Grey-Bruce and attending St. Mary's. Staff members agreed that this event would not have been nicaraguastudentpossible in the not too distant past, but the diversity of the student body, and the community, keeps growing.

Ms. Glasier is the staff person who supports the BIPOC group, and she has fans. “The teachers here are wonderful,” says Olivia, and the Festival was witness to staff engaging to ensure student success and enjoyment. Olivia and Ms. Glasier agree “It's a great way to bring people together.”






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