The first federally legislated National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30 was a time for reflection, discussion and learning for the Branksome community. Dedicated assemblies, in-class reflections, resource sharing and Advisor discussions, Orange Shirt Day and activities all week supported opportunities for learning and recognition of the painful legacy of Canada’s residential schools.
National Truth and Reconciliation Week began on Monday, September 27, with a Senior and Middle School Assembly featuring guest speaker Ojibwe Elder Shelley Charles in conversation with Diploma Core Coordinator Jordan Small, who has collaborated with Charles over the past four years to craft lessons exploring Indigenous knowledge frameworks. Charles shared her perspective about non-Indigenous peoples’ roles in the reconciliation journey.
“Indigenous knowledge encourages higher thinking,” she said, speaking of a values framework that always starts from a place of kindness, inclusion and respect for each and every person. “We’re not just talking about Indigenous peoples. We include all humans in our circles, wherever they come from, so we can do this work together.”
It was a week of painful truths shared, as Charles spoke of our “collective history” involving seven generations of children who attended residential schools, affecting hundreds of thousands, including relatives and grandparents to whom the students could not speak in their own language, in addition to countless other indignities.
“The privilege of listening and learning from the teachings of Shelley Charles these past four years has been one of the most important aspects of my growth as both a teacher and human,” says Small. “Our community is very fortunate to have the opportunity to engage directly with the teachings of an Anishinaabe Elder. Ms. Charles continues to be a generous and caring source of knowledge for our community.”
Students school-wide are beginning to recognize they have a role in taking action, whether it is learning, wearing orange as a symbol of support, or contributing to communities with service work. Inspired by the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Grade 5 student Alaina and Grade 2 student Elle created and sold beautiful handcrafted tie-dye t-shirts for Orange Shirt Day, along with their siblings, with proceeds contributed to the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto.
And, in Junior School Assembly Wednesday, Anishinaabe teen water activist Autumn Peltier’s advocacy work as a “water warrior” was shared, highlighting the uncomfortable history of 20-year-long boil water advisories in Indigenous communities.
“We are working as educators to build our skills surrounding Indigenous education,” said Deputy Principal Amanda Kennedy, mentioning the “amazing, generous teachings” of Michael Etherington, Manager of ReconciliACTIONS with The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, who worked with all employees earlier this year.
Indeed, the week was not just one of learning and relearning history. It also manifested a future-facing vision of hope. The Junior School Assembly ended with a commitment to ReconciliACTIONS, highlighting the point that everyone can commit to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action.
In Middle Years English classes, faculty members Daniel Brownson and Samantha Fleming focused on Indigenous creators, artists, musicians and writers, exploring the work of iconic musician and member of the Cree First Nation, Buffy Sainte-Marie.
The students explored Sainte-Marie’s message of activism, resilience and celebration, explained Brownson. “Indigenous creators have been using their art to communicate their truth and their hopes for reconciliation for a very, very long time,” says Brownson.
“Seeking out and really paying attention to the voices of Indigenous creators, especially Indigenous women, is an action all of us can take to both better understand the Truth and to lead us on the path to Reconciliation,” says Fleming.
Opportunities for meaningful curricular connections were embedded school-wide throughout the week.
For example, in both Advisor sessions and Community Time, Grades 7 and 8 students discussed the role education communities play in Truth and Reconciliation. Questions included: Why do you think it is important to understand that this history is a collective history, not just Indigenous history, in order to be able to make history together? And Grades 9-12 grappled with the deeper learnings embedded in our recited Land Acknowledgement: Why is it important to know about the history of the land your school is on? Our Senior Resource Centre shared resources related to these topics and their process for decolonizing the library with the community. At the Junior School, age-appropriate books included a reading of, for example, The Orange Shirt Story, in Michelle Levy’s Grade 2 class.
As this focus on nurturing existing and fostering new Indigenous partnerships and education initiatives continues throughout the year, so too will links to service and curriculum supports and opportunities to explore Indigenous perspectives.
“Centering Indigenous perspectives has been a focus of this week,” says Instructional Leader and Teacher of English and Theory of Knowledge Jill Strimas. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action are our starting point, and we are intentionally listening, reflecting and focussing on honoring the victims and survivors of residential schools. We are building our understanding and capacity as a community, and we will continue to find concrete ways to continue on the journey towards reconciliation.”