May 21st, 2024

Recognizing National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

By Herald on September 29, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard Chinook High School students and teachers as well as drummers and dancers gather at the rock next to the schools west side doors as part of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Wednesday afternoon. The rock, normally painted gold, was painted orange for this special occasion.

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

Students at Chinook High School will recognize National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day honouring the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

However, students at the school on the west side have been spending the week immersed in the Blackfoot culture.

That means wearing it, speaking it, experiencing it and even eating it as Truth and Reconciliation Week took place Monday through Wednesday at the school.

“All week we’ve had things going on,” said Marley HeavyShield, Indigenous Education Liaison at Chinook High School.

Monday was Moccasin Monday, followed by Tipi Tuesday with a tipi located out front of the school’s main doors.

“We had tours of the tipi outside for any students or staff who wanted to take a look inside, maybe learn how to smudge,” said HeavyShield. “We brought them outside and showed them around.”

Movies played in the learning commons room all week in addition to the Blackfoot word of the day, making sure the students not only understood the meaning of the word, but also spelled it correctly.

In addition to National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, today is also Orange Shirt Day.

Outside the west side doors of the school, the school’s giant rock – normally painted gold – was painted orange by the Grade 12 students.

That colour was also the theme indoors as well with students donning orange shirts.

“Because it’s a statutory holiday, the students won’t be here (today),” said HeavyShield. “The school ordered shirts for all the staff and students, so everyone got one of those on Monday and they’re encouraged to wear them (Wednesday).”

To kick off Wednesday afternoon’s festivities, dancers Torry Eagle Speaker and Punky Daniels and drummer Jacob Faithful performed in the school auditorium, their performance broadcast online for those who couldn’t watch in person.

“They have very graciously accepted our offer to come and show what they do,” said HeavyShield. “Torry dances women’s traditional and Punky dances chicken.”

Though National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is today, HeavyShield stressed the importance of bringing a week’s worth of events to Chinook High School.

“I really wanted to emphasize the importance by having it for the whole week instead of just an orange day, to really educate students on the serious stuff and what truth and reconciliation means,” she said. “The bulletin boards around the school have informational things on them. There was a class here that was working on those so they could learn and also teach other students about things that revolve around Orange Shirt Day and truth and reconciliation at residential schools, the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous people, all of those kinds of things.”

Truth and Reconciliation Week should bring awareness, said HeavyShield, but it doesn’t have to be negative and should also be fun for the students.

“Reconciliation is also a celebration of Indigenous culture, how it evolves and how we can celebrate that together. An example of that is the pow wow happening (Wednesday). It’s a way to show it’s not all reading really sensitive stuff and learning it in a classroom. You can also live it and experience the positive parts, too.”

As they walked around the school Wednesday not only in their orange shirts, but in their ribbon skirts and moccasins, HeavyShield said the students have reacted well to Truth and Reconciliation Week.

“So that was great. For Tipi Tuesday, Karla (Red Crow, another of the organizers) and I went into a food class and taught them how to make fry bread and berry soup and that was a huge success. All of them really enjoyed that and learned a little bit about the history behind those foods, what they mean and where they came from, and then getting to make it and eat it. I made sure they all learned the Blackfoot word of the day if they wanted extra fry bread. That really got them going to make sure they knew how to pronounce it right.”

Chinook Grade 10 students Spencer Noonan and Reid Decillia welcomed the chance to not only learn of Indigenous culture, but to experience it.

“It’s been really interesting to learn the Blackfoot word of the day and be put into that kind of culture,” said Noonan, 15. “It’s really fascinating because we’re going into a completely different world. It’s completely different, but it’s so fascinating to learn about. The whole week has been really nice.

Decillia, also 15, said he has been taking in much information about reconciliation over the course of the year, such as the tragedies at residential schools, and said he was glad Canada has dedicated an entire national holiday to reconciliation.

“As a member of leadership at the school we’ve been putting up stuff all around the school to raise awareness to all the different things, the United Nations Declarations, Indigenous rights as well as Indigenous and residential school facts,” he said. “The facts are shocking, how many bodies have been found and how many haven’t been found.”

For the past three days, Decillia welcomed the chance to learn first-hand.

“I think the key difference is when you’re hands on and doing this for an entire school of 1,200 people you have the intention to educate rather than just take it in for yourself,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s important to spread the word about this. It really is important and it’s part of Canada’s history.”

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