Randall Lewis remembers that when he wanted to learn his native tongue in class, he was shown the door by the then-authorities of Howe Sound Secondary School.
It was back in the 1970s, and while there were options to learn French and Spanish, Lewis wondered why the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim (Squamish language) wasn’t available.
Instead, he was labelled a troublemaker and sent home from school.
“They thought I had an attitude problem,” Lewis told The Squamish Chief. “They kicked me out of school. So the homeschool co-ordinator came to my house and asked me, ‘Do you want to go back to school?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
There was later a parent-teacher conference. Some Elders came and were speaking in their native tongue.
“I asked the teachers — the principal, vice principal, teacher, were all there,” he recalled. “Do you know what they’re saying? They looked up [and said,] ‘No.’ [I said,] ‘That’s my language. That’s the language I want to learn.’”
About 50 years later, there has been a tangible step forward by Squamish’s school district.
On June 21, the school formerly known as Stawamus School reclaimed its true name.
As of Tuesday, it is now St’a7mes School.
The term Stawamus was an Anglicization of a word the colonial settlers couldn’t properly say or understand.
Aaron Williams, the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) speaker who presided over the renaming ceremony, explained that Elders have said the name comes from two different words — river and head.
“They said that it’s fitting for this place name here because it’s really close to the mouth of the river, the Squamish…River, and also what’s at the top of Átl'ḵa7tsem, which is known as Howe Sound,” he said.
During the ceremony, a procession of representatives from the Nation entered the school gym and called upon several members of those gathered to be official witnesses for the event.
Then cloth was laid on the ground in a path, and staff from St’a7mes School were guided to stand in a line on the sheets. The teachers and other officials from the school were wrapped in regalia from the Nation.
Those presiding over the ceremony said the fabric on which teachers stood represented the womb of a mother, a place of warmth and safety.
The headbands would give them focused minds, and the cloth surrounding their bodies would give them protection.
Then, one by one, Williams and others from the Nation singled out each staff member for their efforts to understand and learn the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw culture.
Williams lavished extra praise on Colleen DeVeyrac, who was principal at the time the renaming efforts were underway.
“She spearheaded and fought, and she went into every conversation with the beliefs of the people here, with the beliefs of the children and the support of our membership,” he said.
“You had the hard conversations with whoever it was that was not believing in the change that our people wanted here. She was the one that went with the proper facts. She was equipped with the facts that came from our people’s history.”
DeVeyrac would later acknowledge Williams’ statement and used the occasion to say final fond words, as she is leaving the school to take up a new position elsewhere.
“This school is so special,” said DeVeyrac. “Unless you are here, in this energy, you don’t really know. And so I’m so honoured and so grateful to be able to take that to my new school. And to be able to have that same energy that this school has given me, and, especially the children, because I’m going to tell you this — today…was one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life.”
Others also gave remarks acknowledging the importance of what was taking place. This included various Elders from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, a board member from the Sea to Sky School District, as well as SD48’s superintendent.
“No such thing as time when we’re doing this kind of work,” said Williams. “No such thing as a pay cheque when we do this kind of work. No such thing as day or night. We’re here together sharing.”
**Please note, we have corrected this story since it was first posted. Originally, we had St’a7mes Elementary, when it should be St’a7mes School. There are two programs within this umbrella school (one a middle school/high school program). The K-6 program is called Aya7Ayulh Chet and the senior program is called Learning Expeditions. The Squamish Chief apologizes for this error on our part.