Community Honours the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
As a Downie-Wenjack Legacy school, St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) is committed to “engaging, empowering, and connecting our students and educators to further reconciliation through awareness, education, and action or reconciliACTION.”
As part of this commitment, on Monday, October 2, the SMCS community honoured the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with a walk designed to commemorate Chanie Wenjack’s ill-fated trek home in 1966. Chanie was only 11 years old when he died of hunger and exposure trying to cover the 600 km from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario to his home on the Marten Falls Reserve.
To that end, 20 plaques with information about residential schooling, inter-generational trauma, Orange Shirt Day, Chanie, and current Indigenous issues such as the Opioid crisis, lack of educational opportunities, and disproportionate representation in the child welfare system were placed along a path from the north gymnasium door, along the track, and back towards the students’ entrance. Teachers brought out their classes, one at a time, to solemnly walk this trail, discuss the information on each plaque and tie orange ribbons along the fence to symbolize the school children who did not make it back to their families. The mathematical equation of the number of staff and students involved, plus the distance each person walked, added up to approximate the 600 km Chanie set out to travel.
Other initiatives on the path to reconciliACTION in the school include a closer look at personalizing the school’s land acknowledgments, developing a land acknowledgment monument, preparation for Secret Path week and Treaties week, the development of a student group interested in Indigenous issues, and the continuous professional growth, learning, and sharing of the Indigenous Education Committee.
Read some of the feedback from our students to see how the day impacted them:
“Last week, during the walks on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, my class and I had the ability to truly understand how important the remembrance of the horrors and atrocities committed by the Canadian government against the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Sign by sign, paragraph by paragraph, we really understood the tragedy and walked collectively as a school to honour the roughly 540 kilometres left on Chanie Wenjack’s journey from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School after having walked about 60 kilometres — 600 kilometres too many. The day had a profound emotional impact on me personally. The walk originated as a thought, such as ‘Wow, this must’ve been such a multi-sided story,’ to ending with, ‘Our government did this?’ Learning about the dark history and enduring legacy of the residential school system was both heart-wrenching and eye-opening.”
– Marco Boci, Grade 10
“The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was a very emotional day for me. As I hear and learn more about Indigenous children’s experiences, I feel sad that kids and families had to face these atrocities. No child should ever go through these types of experiences. But this was an important day for me to participate in the healing and reconciliation process. St. Mike’s makes ongoing attempts to make students more aware of Indigenous culture and everything behind the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. St. Mike’s dedicates numerous units to learning and teaching students. I am proud that I was able to become more aware and learn together with my St. Michael’s classmates. In addition, there are plenty of initiatives and announcements that raise awareness for truth and reconciliation.”
– James Simone, Grade 12
“It breaks my heart every time I hear Chanie’s story. He was so close, yet so far from reaching home, being only able to walk a fraction of the distance needed to go back home, while the harsh weather conditions were against him. His story is one of the many others that show the suffering of the Indigenous Peoples, and I’m glad that the school has been showing continuous effort to spread awareness of the dark history Canada has. For me, it made my experience at this school feel more impactful to the world when I did assignments that incorporated the issues that Indigenous Peoples must face. This is a much-needed step to walk on the path of truth and reconciliation.”
– Lucas Joaquin Umali, Grade 10
“Taking part in the walk was truly an eye-opening experience. It addressed the dark history of the residential school system and how the intergenerational trauma still affects Indigenous Peoples. With the ongoing effort made by the school, I believe it is possible for all of us to acknowledge the past and to work towards a more informed future.”
– Leo Kim, Grade 12
“Participating in the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation plaque tour was a powerful moment of reflection for me. It emphasized the significance of past wrongdoing and put in perspective what is needed in order to work towards reconciliation. The efforts of SMCS’ Truth and Reconciliation council, alongside the active involvement of the entire SMCS community are in my view, vital first steps toward uplifting and restoring a marginalized minority in our society.”
– Max Douglas, Grade 12
“The school did a good job at educating students on Chanie Wenjack’s journey, addressing false stereotypes, and present-day side effects and issues. As the stations went on, I began to feel more impacted by somber emotions. I enjoyed the ribbon ceremony, as it shows our school is unified in common cause.”
– Matthew Jamrozinski, Grade 11