LETTERS: Social media accentuates the spread of school yard confrontation

No other school in the region is attempting integration of two cultures on such a scale

To the Expositor:

The recent student brawl at MSS, and the subsequent furor both online and in person concerning the state of race relations at the school, got me thinking about my own time at the school, which I attended from Grade 9 to 12 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Attending MSS at the time meant that you were attending a school that was attempting to integrate a large number of Anishinaabe students with a large number of mostly white students, though this was not something you were told before going there. Once at MSS, you realized quickly that things were a lot different than they were at your respective elementary school.

These were the days before educators thought it was necessary to, well, educate their students to some of the different realities they were now facing. There were no attempts to include Anishinaabe ceremonies in school functions, nor any courses in Native studies, nor were there any official dedicated spaces in the school for Native students to congregate. Essentially, we were all piled into MSS in September and were asked to figure out how to deal with each other.

When I say there were no “official” spaces in the school for Anishinaabe students to congregate doesn’t mean they didn’t congregate. Students from Wiky, in particular, seemed to keep to themselves, hanging in the hallways in large groups during lunch, forming intimidating gauntlets (at least to white students) that one had to steel themselves to pass by. Undoubtedly, these students from Wiky were just as freaked out as everybody else suddenly cast into this roughly patched together mosaic, if not more so which is probably why they stuck together so fiercely.

For the most part, despite these clear cliques, there were few problems. There were some days, though, when the two cultures would indeed butt into each other, representatives of each popping out like proud rams to lock horns with the “other.” Fights happened and fists and racial insults were thrown around recklessly. But though those racial-inspired fights did erupt now and again, they were not more plentiful or fiercer than fights that would happen between, for example, white students from Gore Bay and white students from Little Current on any given Friday night dance.

So yes, undoubtedly there were then and are today some racial issues at MSS. There always have been. But all things considered, they were not outside the scope of typical teenage tensions that exist eternally between themselves and their perceived “others,” the “other” sometimes being from a different town and sometimes from a different race, or both, or neither.

We would all do well to keep in mind that MSS was and is a unique school attempting a significant integration. It has not always done this well or was even seemingly aware that it was doing it, but there has been no other school in the area I can think of that is anywhere close to doing it on the scale that MSS is and has been doing, even with Wiky now having its own high school. As such, there have been few other schools MSS could even look at as one to model themselves after.

In closing, I would like to suggest that what is significantly different at MSS between my time there and today, and between the fights that happened in my time and the one that happened this year, is the scale of it, and how it started. I would suggest that the initial rumour was spread online, and the subsequent charges that were laid after the fight were the result of online threats. And how else does a schoolyard fight suddenly turn into a riot with an uncontrollable amount of participants? Through word of that fight spreading instantly and widely on social media. If the school wants to prevent further incidents then yes, improving race relations can help, but limiting or eliminating the all-access Wi-Fi that the school offers students should also be on the front burner of possible solutions.

Sincerely,

D’Arcy Closs

an MSS graduate Lively