An Indigenous elder speaking to elementary students and offering a smudge before a memorial garden was made to remember those who did not return home was just one event Quesnel School District’s superintendent witnessed earlier this week.
Schools across the district are closed to observe Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation today, Sept. 30.
In advance of the new federal holiday honouring the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, staff and students of all ages participated in activities to learn, listen and reflect.
“We’ve been marking Truth and Reconciliation Day all week,” said superintendent Sue-Ellen Miller, noting on Wednesday, Sept. 29 she was also fortunate to attend a story walk at one of their schools where young students created a path with pictures, feathers and more.
“Students in older grades will be doing work around the Indian residential schools and trying to understand or participating in some of the virtual activities from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation,” she added.
Also taking place on Sept. 30 is Orange Shirt Day, which has been observed since 2013 when Phyllis Webstad told the story of her first day of residential school at St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake where her shiny new orange shirt was ripped away from her.
Miller said the Quesnel School District has participated in a number of events since Orange Shirt Day began.
Students and staff will continue to mark Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation when they return to the classroom on Oct. 1.
“It’s important that we think about the impacts of the Indian Residential Schools throughout the school year, and we also need to look at those barriers that students face, their families face and the systemic racism that is a result from that,” Miller said.
“It’s the first time we’re having this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and we wouldn’t be together on the actual day so it was important to mark it throughout the week in different ways as classes felt was appropriate and as schools felt it was appropriate.”
Staff have engaged in a full day of learning since 2011 in Indigenous Focused Day where they have explored the 94 Calls to Action and understanding residential schools with Indigenous people and speakers who can guide them.
The ongoing work and learning, Miller said will continue beyond Sept. 30.
She said she believes it is vital that students know they have an important role in making things better for all students, and by remembering the past they can make their country better for everyone.
“I think there are years of that work that needs to happen, and so hopefully, the work we’re doing in schools now will help lead children to be the great citizens we want them to be.”