The Upper Canada District School Board is continuing with its campaign to respond to the Calls to Action set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada [TRC]. Grade 5 and 6 students from South Branch Elementary School and Kemptville Public School participated in a special two-day gathering which culminated in an evening feast at KPS last Wednesday. It was a time of learning for the young people, becoming more familiar with Indigenous history and culture, taught to them though hands on activities by Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
Each year since the TRC released their Report in 2015, the UCDSB has been holding these gatherings in schools throughout their district, bringing in indigenous teachers and setting up projects through which the students learn and appreciate the depth and quality of the history and culture of the Indigenous and Metis peoples of Canada.
The Upper Canada District School Board has been committed to implementing the Calls to Action of the TRC in all of their 79 schools, which have an enrollment of approximately 27,000 students, in the counties of Lanark, Leeds-Grenville, Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, and Prescott-Russell. The Board recognises that their schools are situated on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory.
The TRC identified “sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement” as the way to move forward beyond the sad national legacy of federal residential schools and its impact on Indigenous people in Canada. The UCDSB has responded to this call in a variety of ways, including, according to the Board, “embedding Indigenous Education into our classrooms”. A series of books, the Turtle Island Books, is designed to foster awareness and understanding of Aboriginal cultures for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Grades 1 to 3. Each grade in the series offers three traditional stories, four modern stories featuring Aboriginal protagonists, and three informational texts on a variety of engaging topics.
The indigenous feast at KPS included talks by Inuit and Anishinabek speakers, welcoming songs and blessings by the Lanark Drum Circle, and a display of works by students, based on their in-class projects. A Inuk Grandmother demonstrated the use of the Kudlik, the traditional oil lamp used for generations by the Inuit to light and heat their homes. It was an amazing thing to see the seal oil and cottongrass carefully lit in the soapstone vessel.
Before the feast itself, Drum Keeper for the Lanark Drum Circle, Francine Desjardins explained the “protocols” for such an event. The youngest could choose to prepare a plate for the Elders, precedence was given to the Knowledge Keepers and Elders, before the women. The men came last to the feast.
There was a large gathering of local families who entered into the spirit of the event, and it was very gratifying to see so many children in the culmination of the two-day gathering in North Grenville. Thanks and appreciation of all the participants in the gathering was given by KPS Principal, John Bourne, who officially passed the responsibility for next year’s TR+5 gathering to other schools in the Board’s District.