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Lax Kw’alaams explore surprises in the sand

The unexpected discovery leads the class to learning more about their community
Students from Lax Kw’alaams Wap Suwilaawksa School examining sand they collected from a beach near their school. (Photo: Supplied)

Draven Spence, a student at Lax Kw’alaams Wap Suwilaawksa School, was shocked after finding that local sand contained a black, magnetic material.

It all started when Noelle Bulleid’s grade six class collected sand from a beach near the school to use while they were making traditional rattles on a Friday in early December last year.

Later, Spence needed to take a couple of minutes away from class, so Bulleid gave him a magnet and suggested he play with the sand.

“He came up to me a few minutes later and he said, ‘What’s this?’” Bulleid told The Northern View.

At the end of the magnet was a mound of black material of which Bulleid had no idea what it was, she said.

After doing some of her own research, she guessed it was likely magnetite, a type of iron oxide.

The majority of rock around Lax Kw’alaams is metamorphic, Hudson Kunicky, cultural heritage coordinator for the Lax Kw’alaams Band, said. Which means you are likely to get materials like pyrite. There is also a high content of garnet, feldspar and granite, he added.

Kunicky’s background is in archeology and ethnography but he said he has a good understanding of geosciences as well.

At the time of writing this article, he had not visited the school to see for himself the strange magnetic material Miss Bulleid’s class found, so he could not confirm what it was.

One hypothesis he offered is that it might have been left over from industrial work in the area.

“You’ve got probably close to 180 years of heavy-duty industrial work happening in Lax Kw’alaams.”

“There was boat building, logging and different plant workers, so you’ve got a lot of time for people to be throwing out old rusty implements or wrought iron, so that’s what I would suspect that this is,” he said, based on the description of the material Bulleid gave him.

Or maybe it is magnetite, he said, agreeing with the teacher’s hypothesis. Or black sand, a fine material that is rich in iron and other materials.

He would like to do some further tests and examine soil from other parts of the community. Possibly he will involve the students in his examinations.

“I think it’s always important for kids to be able to ask these questions and analyze sediments and learn about different kinds of rocks,” he said.

In the meantime, the grade six students have been having a lot of fun exploring the sand and testing what happens when they use different strengths of magnets, Bulleid said.

“They make it dance across the desks and they make it go up and down the side of a cup, just things like that. It is very interesting,” she said.

On Jan. 30, she pulled out the containers of sand and asked the students to see how much of the magnetic material they could pull from the sand. In just less than 40 minutes, she said they were able to extract almost a cup full of the black material.

Kunicky will be visiting Bulleid’s classroom to talk to the students about archaeology and potentially geology as well.

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 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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Draven Spence is a grade six student at Lax Kw’alaams Wap Suwilaawksa School. (Photo: Supplied)