Git Hayetsk dancers perform at the Kitsumkalum hall during the community school's National Aboriginal Day event on June 21.

Artists pledge support for Kitsumkalum school

'Na Aksa Gyilak'yoo school is raising $2 million for a new building with an event held on National Aboriginal Day.

Efforts by the Kitsumkalum school to raise money for a new building have paid off with a flood of local artists pledging their support at a fundraiser yesterday.

‘Na Aksa Gyilak’yoo school organized the event on National Aboriginal Day to bring them closer to their $2 million goal and the realization of a proper school building.

The value of works pledged by First Nations artists combined with cash donations and on-site sales came to $99,121 with more pledges still rolling in.

“It exceeded my expectations by far,” remarked the school’s principal Colleen Austin. “The energy yesterday was really heightened and made me feel like we can do this.”

The school currently operates out of portables and disjoined buildings which require students and teachers to use outside pathways when they exit classrooms.

At the Kitsumkalum hall event, the Git Hayetsk mask-dancing group from Vancouver entertained scores of attendees which included elementary classes from Uplands, Suwilaawks and Thornhill schools.

Dance group leader and carver Mike Dangeli pledged a mask at the fundraiser and is working on another, larger one to donate later in the summer.

The school also received an artwork pledge by the renowned Roy Henry Vickers.

The art pieces collected will be sold in an international auction this fall, according to Austin.

“I believe that we’ll raise all of the money through the auction,” said Austin, adding they will continue collecting artist items through to August and hope to gather near a million dollars’ worth.

The school is forecasting the items will go for much more, bringing them closer to their goal.

“People tend to realize the value of education and want to contribute to it, but what I’m finding is that because this is First Nations education and because we’re geared around language and culture that people are even more willing to be generous and to help us,” said Austin.

“The language and culture have been lost for so long and people want to bring it back and so they’re ready to do whatever is necessary to make that happen.”

A request for the remaining amount needed to build the $5 million school will be submitted to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada once the conceptual design phase is completed.

‘Na Aksa Gyilak’yoo became an accredited independent school a year ago and is celebrating the graduation of their first two students with a Kitsumkalum dogwood diploma this week.

The school is quickly surpassing their 40-student capacity and the Kitsumkalum band council is looking at a new location to accommodate a larger school building.