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Commemorating the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) community commemorated the country’s second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with important messages, conversations, and a memorable initiative that made an impact on every person in the school.

“To honour the principles of this day, the St. Michael’s community and student body had the opportunity to actively learn and educate themselves, on the tragic and painful legacy of residential schools and how it continues to impact the lives of Indigenous Peoples across the country,” says Joshua Carroll-Leong, Grade 12 student. “We were able to raise awareness and open our eyes to the treatment of Indigenous Peoples and their children. This is a vital first step toward advancing meaningful reconciliation.”

SMCS | Placard with information about National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Placards with information on residential schools and federal day schools were spread out around campus on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Staff and students marked the day with an interactive, outdoor learning session that followed four days of educational announcements on the legacy of Indian residential schools and federal day schools.

The interactive session involved a ‘Reconciliation Walk’ to help illustrate the tragic story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishnaabe boy who ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential school in Kenora in an attempt to get home to his family in Okogi Post.

“We felt the format was symbolic of Chanie’s journey,” says Jacob Lang, science and biology teacher at SMCS. “As we are a Legacy School with the Downie Wenjack Fund, we felt the ‘Reconciliation Walk’ was appropriate for our students and staff to partake in. Chanie only made it 56km or so out of the 600km to return home. With just over 800 students at St. Mike’s, each student individually walked about 600m, which adds up to about 640km in total — enough to symbolically complete the journey from Kenora to Ogoki Post.”

The walk began at the school’s gymnasium exit, through the back driveway towards the stadium, around the field, and finished at the main students’ entrance. Information placards featuring the story, photos, and facts about residential and federal day schools were on display along the path for classes to participate in the sombre walk to learn and reflect.

SMCS students tie ribbons to the fence during the Reconciliation walk
Students tied orange ribbons to the fence at one of the information stops during the ‘Reconciliation Walk’.

“The hope is that students and staff are inspired to continue walking their own path of truth and reconciliation. Part of this journey is confronting the facts of what happened and the other is reflecting on how to strive to become allies of Indigenous Peoples here in Canada,” says Lang, who is of the Métis Nation of Ontario under Barrie South Simcoe Métis Council. “Many of the placards on this walk presented very real, very upsetting information about the origins, carrying out, and aftermath of the Indian residential and federal day schools that operated in Canada.”

He adds, “Naturally, we want all of our participants to share the same notion of not allowing something like this to ever happen again. However, we want those participants to start thinking of ways to help make life better for the Survivors and their families today and moving forward. In other words, how might we demand more of our government? How might we demand more from our schools? How might we best help near-extinct Indigenous languages and cultures become revitalized and restored? How might we best form meaningful, reciprocal relations with the land and with Indigenous Peoples here in Treaty 13?”

SMCS students learn about residential schools during National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Placards featured pieces of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic story as well as photos and information about the residential school experience.

The school’s work towards reconciliation is based on the 2016 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action, specifically 62, 63, and 80, which call upon the federal and provincial governments to ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process and to ensure Indigenous knowledge and perspectives are incorporated in education.

“The intent behind our school’s events surrounding Truth and Reconciliation is to build stronger intercultural relationships, to making the school and classrooms more inviting to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, and to provide alternative ways of teaching many concepts to children especially when it comes to topics related to the environment,” Lang says. “In a nutshell, ‘Indigenizing’ education means including an Indigenous perspective in schools that would involve local knowledge from elders and knowledge keepers and ultimately learning what it means to coexist in a just and peaceful way.”

The Indigenous Education Committee, part of the broader Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at SMCS, is in its second year and working on establishing long-term goals for the school.

A SMCS student reads about the origins of Orange Shirt Day
Prior to the ‘Reconciliation Walk’, staff and students learned more about the legacy of Indian residential schools and federal day schools through a series of morning announcements.

“There is no ‘one-way’ approach to seeking and working towards Indigenous allyship as a school community, so we draw inspiration from other school boards, provinces, the Downie Wenjack Fund, and local knowledge keepers and elders to help us along our journey,” says Lang. “However, a priority of our group is to always go about these things in a good way.”

From October 17 to October 21, SMCS will be recognizing Secret Path Week, a national movement that commemorates the legacies of Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack. The Indigenous Education Committee at SMCS shared an array of resources for teachers to help them incorporate Indigenous knowledge, spirituality, and perspectives into their lessons.

“If we walk alone, we may stumble and fall, and not go very far. If we are alone, we might not be able to complete the journey. When we walk together, the further we go. If we are to complete this journey of Reconciliation, we must do it together.”

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