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OKIB breaks ground on new school, where heritage is ‘the compass’

The Okanagan Indian Band this week broke ground on its new elementary school, heralding what officials say will be a new era of inclusive learning in the community.

When complete, the Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion Elementary School will provide an inclusive learning environment for future generations to embrace the Sqilxw language and culture as well as all forms of academic success.

“We are pleased to break ground for the new school. At the heart of our traditions, we Syilx nurture the roots of wisdom. Our Cultural Immersion School is a place where heritage becomes the compass guiding future leaders on a journey of knowledge, respect, and unity,” Byron Louis, chief of the Okanagan Indian Band, said in a press release.

“The work leading up to this groundbreaking ceremony for the new school relied on the determination and support of OKIB elders, parents, educators, and community members. Now, it’s time to build the new school to provide a positive place of learning for our students.”

Located on Okanagan Indian Reserve No. 1, the new school will replace the Cultural Immersion School building that was built in 2006 and has long since been outgrown.

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The new school’s seven classrooms, gymnasium, library, kitchen, language, culture and administration areas will support the Okanagan Indian Band in expanding a culturally appropriate learning environment for the community’s kindergarten (age four) to Grade 7 students.

Working in partnership with the community, the government of Canada committed $19.3 million to the school project. The Okanagan Indian Band will contribute $2.85 million.

The school is expected to open in September 2025.

“I join the Okanagan Indian Band in celebrating the significance of this groundbreaking,” Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, said.

“The community’s hard work and leadership made this happen. Quality and culturally appropriate education is essential for children to have a fair chance of success. We will be at First Nations’ side as they build new schools in accordance with their traditions and cultures.”

The Okanagan Indian Band consists of seven reserves, the largest being Okanagan Indian Reserve  1, where most of its members live.

The band has a total population of 2,268 members, with 822 residents living on reserve.

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