by Kerstin Auer

The Herald recently had a chance to catch up with Burt Bergmann, principal of Lower Nicola’s Nicola Canford Elementary School, to see the Traditional Calming Space on their school grounds, which has been in operation for about three years. 

With a large number of Indigenous students at the school, Bergmann and First Nations support staff and Elders wanted to ensure proper representation, and the school district agreed. 

“The district was really really supportive and worked hard to make it happen and it’s been great, we’re super thankful for it. We are 60 percent Indigenous ancestry here so we’re trying to create something that reflects what our community values and looks like,” said Bergmann. 

The space includes a garden with traditional plants, a medicine garden, a sensory garden, and traditional calming space stations. A stream running through it is at the centre of the space, with water playing an elemental role in the calming stations such as the Reflection Rocks. The traditional purpose of the Reflection Rocks was to be able to distinguish noises from close by or farther away by going within and listening, while focusing on one’s worries and concerns. 

Nicola Canford Principal Burt Bergmann shows off the ‘worry pebble’ station in the Calming Space. Marius Auer/Herald

The use of the space varies by program and grade level; kids in grades Kindergarten to grade 4 within the primary enrichment Nle?kepmxc’in classroom use the traditional calming space frequently, according to Bergmann. Grade 4 to 7 language and culture classes also make use of it. 

“Sometimes they use it for the traditional purpose, and sometimes they just come out and work, like you just come out and sit there and do your work by the fire. I know people have done art classes out here,” noted Bergmann.

Counsellors also have access to the traditional calming space and utilize it, with great success. 

“Some kids really connect with it well, we have used it for some of our kids who are on IEPs [Individualized Education Plan] and need that regulation. It’s a positive thing for them. For our indigenous students it’s representation and seeing cultural values represented in the building and saying ‘this is a place where I fit, this is a place where I belong, this is a place where my culture recognizes what I need.’ There is power in that. For non-indigenous kids it’s a beautiful space and it has some beautiful teachings they can access if they so choose,” added Bergmann.

To plan and set up the space, Bergmann worked with elders from Lower Nicola, Nooaitch, and Shackan Bands. Their input was essential in what to include and how to set it up. Bergmann noted that Amelia Washington gave invaluable input for the overall concept, and Jimmy Toodlican contributed his knowledge around traditional puberty training with boys; Leonard Antoine also made significant contributions, and the whole concept was then brought to life by Thompson Lawn Care under Bergmann’s oversight. 

To read more about each component of the traditional calming space at Nicola Canford Elementary, visit nces.sd58.bc.ca/traditional-calming-space.