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'Shocked and honoured': retired educator, First Nations woman has Langley school named after her

(L) Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary is under construction in the SW Yorkson area of Langley, BC. (Courtesy: Joanne Abshire, Langley School District) (R) Portrait of Donna Robins taken as part of the Langley Fine Arts School ‘This is Kwantlen’ Exhibit. (Courtesy: Elise Muller, Langley Fine Arts School)
Summary

Donna Gabriel Robins, a member of the Kwantlen First Nation, will have an elementary school named after her

The now-retired educator says this honour is a prime example of how important representation is

The school board says she spent hours building people up and advocated for people in the Aboriginal program

LANGLEY – When Langley Schools said earlier this year it was trying to name a new elementary school in the southwest Yorkson area of the Township, Donna Gabriel Robins had the perfect suggestion: her father, Chief Joe Gabriel, of the Kwantlen First Nation.

However, the recently retired educator’s campaign took a bit of a turn when she received a call from her former bosses at the end of November.

“They were both administrators from the Aboriginal program, and they let me know that I was going to have my name submitted and nominated for this new school.”

The moment she was able to process what had been shared with her, Gabriel Robins says emotions were mixed.

“I was taken aback, because I had been a part of this nomination for my dad for the same school, and I let them know about it. I felt a little bit uncomfortable about it, but they really praised me and said positive things about why I should let my name stand. So I’m so humbled and so honoured that they nominated me,” she tells NEWS 1130 in an interview.


The name Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary was made official on Tuesday, as the Langley Board of Education shared the good news during its meeting.

“Donna builds people up and strengthens relationships,” says Rod Ross, Chair of the Langley Board of Education. “This is shown in her tireless work to connect the District and Indigenous communities, her advocacy for the students, families and staff of the Aboriginal Program, and the fostering of good will and trust between individual schools and Matsqui, Kwantlen, Katzie and Semiahmoo First Nations, Waceya Metis Society and the Lower Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society.”

Those sentiments are supported by others who attest to her work ethic and dedication.

“Donna has been instrumental in helping lead the way on our District’s journey in Truth and Reconciliation, and ensuring that every student can see their place in the curriculum,” said Gord Stewart, Superintendent of Schools.


“A lasting legacy”

Langley Schools says naming the school after Gabriel Robins was the right decision, citing how well-respected she is in the community.

Born and raised in Langley, she spent her entire life in the education field, graduating from Langley Secondary in 1975. She obtained a degree in education at SFU, then worked as a teacher with Seabird Island Community School, Murrayville Elementary, and Langley Fine Arts School. Gabriel Robins spent 26 years leading the Aboriginal program, fostering what Langley Schools calls a program of respect, belonging, connection and culture.

While the school won’t be named explicitly after her father, she says she’s glad her family name and her married name will play a role.

“I have been known as Donna Gabriel – that’s my family name – and I’m known as Donna Robins throughout the school district, and I felt it was very important for my family name to be represented in the Langley School District because the Gabriel name is from Kwantlen First Nation and they’ve been a big, huge part of the education of our people in the Langley School District. I have said that this school board and the school district has learned from everyone.”

Gabriel Robins also says this gesture is a good example of how important it is to be represented in the community.

“I’m an Indigenous person from Kwantlen First Nation, along the bloodline of a chieftainship, my sister right now is a chief. I just think it’s really important to have an Indigenous female and a strong family represented.”

There are a few loose ends that may need some wrapping up, though: when the board made the announcement on Tuesday, Gabriel Robins chuckled as she jokingly talked about school mascots…though she has some good ideas.

“In my nation, and my family, they saw me as a butterfly, and that means transformation. And then the wolves, it represents Kwantlen First Nation. The owl is what was given to me by my elders within the Aboriginal program. They gave me that animal as representation.”

This is the first time the Langley Board of Education has named a school after a member of the Kwantlen First Nation.