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National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

September 28, 2021
Rob Riel

This year marks the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Winnipeg School Division schools have been preparing for this solemn day. For administrators like Rob Riel, this day is a long time coming and he’s moved by the dedication he and his team see around WSD. 

As Director of Indigenous Education, Riel oversees a cluster of schools including Argyle Alternative, Brock Corydon, Carpathia, Children of The Earth (COTE), Grant Park, Grosvenor, Harrow, Isaac Newton, J. B. Mitchell, Montrose, Niji Mahkwa, Queenston, Robert H Smith, Robertson, Rockwood, William Whyte, and the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre (WAEC). Riel recognizes the meaning of this sombre day having grown up with his own Métis heritage hidden from him lest he face discrimination or prejudice for his name or even the language he spoke. 

“My dad was my biggest role model. He helped me understand what my role needed to be in this career. He wouldn’t even put me in a French immersion school. He was so afraid that it would affect my ability to learn or even get a job, given my name was immediately recognizable. My dad faced so much and he just wanted to spare me. But it made me want to claim my heritage and never hide it.” 

Across the various schools in recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (Formerly Orange Shirt Day) on Sept. 30, WSD staff and students will take time on Sept. 29 to learn, reflect and have meaningful discussions about the impacts of residential schools. Orange ribbons have been distributed to all staff and students to wear on this day of reflection, or at any time throughout the year as a symbol of recognition. 

Riel has served as a teacher at Children of the Earth School, Vice Principal at Niji Makhwa, and principal at both Argyle Alternative and Niji Makhwa. He sees the role of Indigenous education today as the best way to move everyone forward. “My role in Indigenous education today has tremendous meaning and purpose in that I am able to support Indigenous students and staff and their success. When we help Indigeous students become the adults they want to be, or help them find out who they are, this is when things will change in the world.”

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation brings attention to the continuing effects of residential schools and Riel, as an educator, father, and Metis person, calls on each of us to, “Acknowledge, learn, and reflect. It’s not a day of celebration but of acknowledgment. We can do this together and for each other.” 

For more information about events centred around National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in individual WSD schools, please visit the school’s websites.

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