Island schools and students participate in first Truth and Reconciliation Day

Grade 7 and 8 students stand outside of Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay, prior to leading a walk through the town of Gore Bay on September 30, as part of the first Truth and Reconciliation Day.

GORE BAY – It was easy to recognize that students at Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay were touched by the first Truth and Reconciliation Day September 30, and the reasons and meaning behind the day.

Among the many activities the school took part in included the Grade 7 and 8 classes leading a walk through the town wearing orange shirts to raise awareness about the history of residential schools. “The feeling of going out to represent something so important and getting an amazing response to what we were doing was very special. I hope others remember for days and years to come,” stated Grade 7 student Amara Wilson-Zegil.

Fia Flanagan, a Grade 8 student said, “I appreciated how some people were honking their horns to show that they supported what we were doing.”

“We walked for each child that was taken and for each child that sadly died,” said Rylan Lock, a Grade 8 student.

And Jefferey Harper, a Grade 7 student said, “It was a very heartbreaking day to remember.”

Teacher Courtney Chatwell Lockyer explained, “we wanted to do something special to commemorate this day of Truth and Reconciliation. We thought it was important and fitting to have children walk to honour children, the survivors and their families, and all of the children that never came home.”

Students at C.C. McLean enjoyed a wide range of activities to learn about the significance of Orange Shirt Day. Grade 1 students watched CBC’s ‘Molly of Denali’ video as an introduction to residential schools, followed by a reflective discussion about how they would feel if something special were taken from them. Students in the primary music program learned about traditional Indigenous hand drumming. 

To explore Canada’s Residential School system from a child’s perspective, the C.C. McLean Grade 2/3 class read a series of stories including ‘When I Was Eight,’ ‘Not My Girl,’ and ‘Shin-chi’s Canoe.’ Students created orange hearts with words and images to reflect their learning and read The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad, decorated paper orange shirts with “Every Child Matters.” 

Grade 5/6 C.C. McLean students took part in daily seminars with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation that touched on treaties, land claims, language, culture, truth, reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day and knowledge transfer. 

September 30 marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to acknowledge a tragic time in Canadian history and honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

“On this day, our staff and students will wear orange and continue to learn about residential schools and their impact on generations of Indigenous peoples,” said Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) Director of Education Bruce Bourget. “When we wear orange, we honour the Residential School survivors and their families and remember the children who did not come home.”

In Rainbow schools, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation reaffirmed and reinforced the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation: A Commitment to Action plan adopted by RDSB. “The plan is dedicated to the former students at Canada’s residential school experience-the survivors. This includes the many men and women, the elders, including those who have passed into the Spirit World whose traditional territory we now call home.”

Rainbow schools observed a moment of silence to honour the Indigenous children who did not return home for residential schools and played an honour/drum song recorded by Brydon Gwiss Kiwenzie, who is from the Indigenous (Anishinaabe) community in Sudbury. He sang the Unity Song with the Grandmother Hand Drum. 

At Assiginack Public School on September 30, students and staff acknowledged the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by wearing orange. Students also learned about the history of Residential Schools in Canada through various classroom activities. Students and staff connected virtually at 9:15 am. The commemoration ceremony concluded with a moment of silence. The school also acknowledged the Ontario Native Women’s Association for donating bracelets and buttons to the students and for providing items for a bulletin board display in the school.

Students and staff at Little Current Public School wore orange to demonstrate the significance and importance of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Students spent the week focusing on activities about truth and reconciliation, water issues in First Nations communities and smudging. A variety of books and webinars were also shared in classrooms, and a Truth and Reconciliation board was on display throughout the month.

Intermediate students created legacy poems and selected an object that represents them. They used design software to create 3D printed symbols to join together as a class wampum, recognizing that we are all unique. 

At Manitoulin Secondary School, a large “Every Child Matters” banner hung in the front of the entrance of the school to honour the many children and families impacted by the Residential School System in Canada.