VIDEO: Under-utilized Langley school courtyard transformed into First Nations living library

Douglas Park Elementary unveiled its Aboriginal garden and murals on Thursday morning

An under-utilized courtyard at Douglas Park Community School has been transformed into a First Nations Living Library.

Teacher Lorraine Goulet came up with the idea to transform the courtyard to a place that connects students to Indigenous culture, their foods and medicines.

Goulet and her ‘Common Ground’ students began planning the living library last year.

Plants found in the garden have been chosen based on their significance to Aboriginal medicine and use, and are native to the Fraser Valley region.

Students will learn how to care for the plants, as well as learn all about their traditional uses by First Nations communities.

Goulet has been working on the project with Matsqui artist, drummer and story teller Carman McKay — he is the lead artist; and Kwantlen ethnobotanist Karen Gabriel. Both are Aboriginal presenters with SD35.

“We came up with the idea last year in May,” said Goulet, who applied for grants through ArtStarts and SD35.

Goulet was awarded $9,575 by ArtStarts and $5,000 by SD35.

Earlier in the year, they held a Blessing Ceremony to launch the project, with the intent of having the children be as involved with creating the living library as the artists.

Students had a spring break camp with McKay, who taught the children how to carve cedar for the planter boxes.

They were also immersed in First Nations culture through drumming, story telling and medicine wheel teachings.

With the project is full swing, two more artists came on board, said Goulet.

A large cedar forest mural was created by artist Jackie Bauer, and four large round murals of Carman’s design were installed.

Dawn McKay has prepared large tiles of various nature scenes that the students painted and embellished. Each class has been, or will be, taken on a plant walk with Gabriel.

The living library now has a forest plot, river plot, medicinal plot, three sisters plot and various smaller plants, including wild strawberries, in ceramic containers.

“Two volunteers have been working very hard with us — Diane Thompson (Goulet’s sister) and Collette MacDougall (a grandparent of a student),” said Goulet.

“This space will be used to teach about the plants, for story telling, ceremonies, and as a beautiful space to be enjoyed.”