Truth & Reconciliation at KSS: How should we approach it?

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KELOWNA – Truth and Reconciliation week was a tough time for a lot of people. Uncovering the trauma for the Indigenous Peoples, the recent discovery of the unmarked graves, and all the other negative effects of residential schools that were passed on from generation to generation. Furthermore, there was plenty of backlash from KSS students towards indigenous/non-indigenous leadership teachers and classes for how this commemorative day unfolded at Kelowna Secondary School.

Not familiar with what went on? Let’s do a quick recap. September 29th was meant to be a day for Truth and Reconciliation at KSS. Where we began the day with two minutes and fifteen seconds of silence to honor the 215 innocent lives (and many more) that the Indigenous community lost due to residential schools. We were also educated during our classes by completing assignments, watching videos, and reading articles to understand and recognize the pain and abuse that the First Peoples had to go through. That seems like an appropriate week of remembrance, right? Get this, we also had a live band with loud pumping rock music, hired a food truck, and handed out candy.

As a young metis woman, my first impression of this “celebration” that the leadership classes put together for this day was, “how insensitive”. How could our school be teaching us about the torture these pure human beings had to go through one minute, and have a celebration the next? This whole thing just didn’t add up, so I looked further into it and had a talk with one of the Indigenous advocates.

First of all, let’s break down the meaning of truth and reconciliation. “Truth and Reconciliation is about uncovering the truth, and collectively acknowledging the hurt, abuse, and systemic racism that has been forced upon the Indigenous peoples of Canada,” says Indigenous advocate, Dawn Dionne. “We are breathing  life back into our children one by one, so one day, there will be more pride than shame, more understanding and love, than a fear of what makes us different, and maybe even more compassion and togetherness in humanity.”

 It started when a few Indigenous students wanted to be a part of the first annual Truth and Reconciliation week at KSS. The main focus of the leadership teachers and students was to heal, come together, and celebrate that the Indigenous peoples survived the brutality. They still wanted to acknowledge and mourn the losses, but they also felt that it is important to commend the way of life of the First Peoples, and how they are now reteaching and regrowing their culture throughout Canada.

Three years ago, the Indigenous students and teachers had a meeting about Truth and Reconciliation. They discussed that during this time of year, there was little positivity spread, as we would only look at the horrors of residential schools. Therefore, they wanted to have time to recognize the resilience and hope that the Indigenous peoples possessed, and how we can all come together to be supportive of each other, just as it would be at Indigenous gatherings.

At the gatherings, there would be food and music, so the leadership students and teachers thought it would be appropriate to have a food truck and live music, to connect us as a whole, but the message they were trying to get out was unfortunately misdirected. You see, their motives were positive and I respect them for that, but it was evident that there was a lack of foresight in regards to their reasoning and what actually occurred at the event. Having live non-Indigenous music playing and candy being thrown to you if you showed your support by wearing the orange shirt, made this day seem more like a spirit day, and not a day to remember and celebrate the First Nation communities. Perhaps if Indigenous music and food were offered instead, it would have educated the students on the First Nations culture and solidified what this day was intended for, the acknowledgment of the indigenous people, not just another “shirt day”.

Overall, this day was a huge learning experience for both the teachers and students. We now know the importance of having a day to remember the innocent souls and mourning their loss, while celebrating the strength it took to overcome the adversities their ancestors endured during the week. 

Next year, I hope KSS will make this day more focused on the indigenous way of life and become more sentient around the topic, as there are many people still suffering from the impact that residential schools have on indigenous communities to this day.

After hundreds of years of active colonization, systemic racism, and discriminatory government policy aimed to eliminate Indigenous Culture, we are still here. Our culture lives and breathes every time we speak our language, sing our songs, or connect with the land.” – Dawn Dionne