Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chief Justice Murray Sinclair hit the nail on the head when he coined the phrase “Education is what got us here and education is what’s going to get us out.”
These powerful words put things into perspective. How can we realistically move a whole school division to change and acknowledge what we have learned about indigenous people and transition into “reconciliation” mode? Well, you accept the fact that it cannot be done overnight, that this is a journey that may take many steps, but most importantly, we need to acknowledge that the foundation of reconciliation is built on relationships of trust and respect.
In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created 94 Calls to Action to redress the legacy of residential schools so organizations and individuals would have guidelines to create awareness and move forward on making change. The calls specific to education advanced Regina Catholic Schools to create a plan for implementation.
As we gathered to mark the beginning of the new school year on Aug. 31, 2017, Archbishop Donald Bolen reminded us at our opening mass of the importance of our call to reconciliation with our indigenous sisters and brothers. His powerful message has resonated this school year as we live out our theme of “Let Your Light Shine.” This theme of bringing light when parts of our world are in darkness has never been more important, especially during this time of reconciliation.
Archbishop Bolen’s message started our school year off in a good way, but his ongoing message throughout the year also brought to light our efforts to make a difference for reconciliation. In May of 2017 renowned artist and Elder Wayne Goodwill from Standing Buffalo First Nation was commissioned to create an authentic Winter Count Buffalo Robe on behalf of Regina Catholic Schools. At the opening mass the buffalo robe was placed on the altar while Archbishop Don spoke to reconciliation.
In May of 2017 renowned artist and Elder Wayne Goodwill from Standing Buffalo First Nation was commissioned to create an authentic Winter Count Buffalo Robe on behalf of Regina Catholic Schools. At the opening school mass in August the buffalo robe was placed on the altar while Archbishop Don Bolen spoke to reconciliation. (Photo courtesy Regina Catholic Schools)
The Winter Count Buffalo Robe displays a timeline of historical significance for indigenous people in Canada. It is to be presented as a gift of reconciliation to Pope Francis in Rome in anticipation of his visit to Saskatchewan. It would be a major step toward healing to have Pope Francis acknowledge the TRC Calls to Action #58 where he apologizes to our indigenous brothers and sisters, on our soil.
This project has grown significantly and will make its way through the schools, the larger Catholic Community and for anyone wanting to hear the story. This initiative has grown in magnitude and will leave a historic legacy for Regina Catholic Schools.
On Oct. 2, 2017, Regina Catholic Schools marked its annual Orange Shirt Day — Every Child Matters. The wearing of an orange shirt is to honour Phyllis Jack Webstad, a First Nation elder, who on her first day of residential school was stripped of her brand new orange shirt and never saw it again. This day is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. Staff and students in Regina Catholic schools began the day in prayerful silence and acknowledged the children who were forced to attend residential schools. Each of our schools marked Orange Shirt Day with a liturgy of remembrance and a variety of learning activities to recognize the wrongs of the residential school system and to honour residential school survivors.
Our school division continues to strive to meet the Calls to Action through various resources and supports provided. One of our most impactful resources is the relationship sustained by indigenous elders in the schools. The support, teaching and knowledge they share is a powerful resource for our students. The support they provide through curricular connections, traditional perspectives and cultural practices has grown immensely over the years.
The eagerness and willingness to engage and learn has had an impact on many of our students and staff members’ lives. A wonderful example is our resident elder, May Desnomie. She has provided an oral comparison of Christian versus First Nations traditional ways of praying. This video footage will be used for the Grade 4 Pearson religion resource to connect the content in the student book. This resource will be used in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
There is no doubt that we have embraced the calls to action and much is a-buzz in our schools as we internalize the learning. The Regina Catholic Schools Circle of Voices First Nations, Inuit and Métis Advisory Committee created a Truth and Reconciliation symbol that will become a visual reminder of our commitment to ensure that we share the truth and become models for reconciliation.
The learning continues to grow for Truth and Reconciliation, and our school division will come full circle as we acknowledge June 8 as a Day of Education for Truth and Reconciliation. June 8 is marked as an annual event within Regina Catholic Schools to make a solid commitment to meeting the Calls to Action. By taking this proactive approach we focus on learning Canada’s collective history of indigenous peoples.
Every school participates in different ways. The learning is meaningful, authentic and engaging. Our steps might be short but we will work toward covering the distance.
Landry is co-ordinator for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Education in Regina Catholic Schools.