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Through the testimonies of many
Indigenous Canadians during the Truth and Reconciliation process, a vast record
has been accumulated, detailing how the residential school system has caused
generations of damage to Indigenous culture and families.
Kelvin High School is among the
many WSD schools involved in ongoing efforts to rebuild Indigenous culture in
the aftermath of the residential school system. By providing cultural
opportunities and exploring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls
to Action, school administration hopes to combat the sense of isolation some
Indigenous students may feel.
“Indigenous kids want to learn more
about their culture,” said Vice-Principal Cree Crowchild. “If you don’t know
who you are, it’s hard to be successful.”
Mr. Crowchild has made a point of
interviewing all of the incoming Grade 9 students at Kelvin, as well as
tracking survey data. Approximately 100 Kelvin students self-identify as
Indigenous; the numbers have shown growth despite some students being guarded
about their cultural identity.
“We had one student who said they
sometimes tell people they’re Spanish (instead of Indigenous),” Mr. Crowchild
said. “Another student said ‘I wish my skin was lighter. I want blue eyes, I
want to be like other people.’ So there is a loss of identity there. For me
those comments come from a generational mindset, and I’m interested in how we
can change that through Truth & Reconciliation.”
There are other challenges beyond
culture. A random sample of Indigenous students found them trailing behind the
rest of the student population for earned credits, attendance and enrolment in
Kelvin staff is continually looking
at ways to change those statistics.
The school held its first-ever Indigenous
Parents Night in November, which saw nine families attend.
“For me, that’s a big step. Within
our culture, residential Schools have negatively influenced parent
participation,” Mr. Crowchild said. “School isn’t seen as a place of safety—it
was often a place of fear and hatred, depending on their individual
experiences. There’s a systemic mistrust…but I told those nine families that
they just broke the cycle. You’ve shown your kids that school is important to
you and that you are willing to forego things that have happened in the past to
your culture to be here.”
Kelvin is also piloting an
Indigenous Student Coach position this year, with teacher Michelle Gougeon
allotting a portion of her schedule to the role. She follows up with students
regularly to see how their school year is progressing, and offers support if
“Some students are very successful
academically, while others are struggling and need additional support,” said
Ms. Gougeon, who also supports the Aboriginal Youth Leadership Program along with Kelvin Social
Worker Rob Marriot.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of
connecting them with scholarship or job opportunities.”
Through Kelvin’s Indigenous Youth
Group, students are connected to opportunities for cultural teachings, such as
a recent series of workshops with Lodge Keeper Vern Dano. Students will be
taking part in a sweat lodge with Mr. Dano later this school year.
Kelvin also recently held a weekend
tipi-raising on the school grounds, offering the entire community a way to
culturally connect on a Saturday.
“What’s great was that we had kids
coming with their parents to help put the tipi up,” Ms. Gougeon said. “Parents
will talk about their own ancestry, how they’ve lost cultural connections or
reconnected…it’s neat to hear their stories. We’re taking some good steps here
in creating an Indigenous community.”
Last school year, Kelvin began the
practice of offering students and staff the opportunity to smudge before the
start of the school day.
“It’s important because when you smudge, it
helps to get bad feelings and thoughts out of your head. I also go to the
smudges because it’s a nice little community,” said Grade 9 student Jack
“A lot of Indigenous people and
kids are raised without their culture because it was stripped away from their
parents or grandparents. If they can reconnect with their culture at school,
Through the school’s Journeys
program, Kelvin staff has participated in sweat lodges and other cultural
activities, such as travelling to Narcisse to pick sage for use in school
Staff are also reviewing the TRC website and lesson
plans that can be used their classrooms regardless of the subject matter.
In lunch hour sessions, staff read contemporary Indigenous articles
together, discussing the different lenses they can be viewed through and how to apply the knowledge gained to
their daily classroom discussions with students.
“It’s important that staff are
involved in all of this, because when we’re talking about Truth and
Reconciliation, it’s about building relationships and rebuilding relationships
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” said Kelvin Social Worker Rob
Mr. Marriot has posted some of the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action outside his office door
for students and staff to see.
“Teachers have brought their
classrooms there to look at the Calls to Action, so they can work on
assignments and have discussions,” he said.
“Murray Sinclair has said that education got
us into this and education will be the way to get us out of it and move forward
in reconciliation. Schools are an important place for ideas and learning. We
need to be in a safe space where we can have those difficult discussions and
get to know each other.”
This past June, for the first time
in Kelvin’s 105-year-history, the school gave special acknowledgement to its
graduating Indigenous students. Seventeen students received graduation stoles
to mark the occasion. Among those graduates was Kelvin student Sila Rogan,
became first Inuit Loran Scholarship recipient.
“Indigenous students are becoming
positive statistics, rather than negative,” Mr. Crowchild said. “We are getting