Introduction and reflection from our new District Vice-Principal for Indigenous Education
Some of you may know Connie Swan from her work with our Indigenous Education Team over the last year. We’re excited to announce that she has stepped into an important new role in the District, as she is now the District Vice-Principal for Indigenous Education.
Connie has put together the following note as a means of reflection, introduction and a call to continue to work forward together in our learning and reconciliation journey. Her comments pull on years of research, learning and personal experience.
October 8, 2021 – The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation provided the opportunity for reflection on difficult truths about our country and on how we must move forward together in the best way possible. Before we can move forward, we must know where we are from.
We are on unceded and traditional territory of the Coast Salish People. It is with great honour and respect that I acknowledge Chief Rhonda Larrabee and the Qayqayt First Nation for allowing us to live, to learn, to play, to meet and to do our work on their lands and territory.
I am from the N’lakapamux Nation. My mother is Thompson from Lytton, BC and my late father is Cree from St. Paul, Alberta. Born and raised at a young age in Lytton, BC and later Kamloops, BC.
Two places that have seen great devastation this summer include a raging forest fire that destroyed 90% of the community in Lytton, BC and the revealing truths of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. News shared by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. These atrocities alone have had a huge impact on Aboriginal communities in BC and across Canada.
September 30th marked the date designated for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day was deemed for the very first time in Canadian history, a federal statutory holiday. In the weeks leading up to September 30th, the students and staff at NWSS commemorated and honoured the legacy of residential school survivors, and those, who did not make it home through school wide lesson plans, events, and activities.
I am very honoured and blessed to be working in such an amazing district as the newly appointed District Vice-Principal of Indigenous Education. I want to acknowledge Superintendent, Karim Hachlaf and Associate Superintendent, Maryam Naser for believing in me and providing the opportunity to make a difference in the educational journey of each Aboriginal Student within this district. My hands go up to the Indigenous Education Team Lee Laufer, Roslyn Smith, Jasmyne Tannahill, Danielle Smith, Sherry Belrose, and Matt Mitchell. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Student Indigenous Events Committee, Brenda Johnson and the Reconciliation Committee for their dedication, hard work, and commitment towards helping to bring an understanding, awareness, and learning towards a part of history that has never been told.
This year has more meaning…. and a lot more reflection on Canada’s history of colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples due to the finding of the 215 children, who died and were found in a mass grave burial site at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
I lived in Kamloops and worked at a school on the reserve beside the Residential School. I hold the families, communities, and Nations close to my heart. Soon after I found out, I had to make the journey to Kamloops to lay flowers at the memorial site. I happened to be there when the convoy of 215 plus trucks drove passed. The truck drivers, who encompassed people from all over BC, encircled the residential school, and honked their horns in support and love. So many Indigenous people cheering and crying all at the same time. It rained a little during the convoy and then poured rain at the end. Rain seemed to help wash away the tears and sorrow, at least for a day, and replace these feelings of loss, grief and despair with a glimmer of hope.
Since the discovery of the children in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, there have been so many acts of kindness. I have seen orange hearts and ribbons on fences, I have seen orange pictures of T-shirts on windows, I have witnessed the collection of 215 pairs of children’s shoes, I have seen people wearing a pin of an orange heart on their shirts and Aboriginal artwork created on orange shirts. Since the discovery, there have been more children found in residential schools across BC and Canada with the numbers growing into the thousands. According to social media, the number is 6000 plus and growing. Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the TRC commission, has said as many as 25,000 children may have died at the schools.
It is important now more than ever to continue to learn about Indigenous peoples locally in the Qayqayt First Nation, in British Columbia and across Canada. It is never too late to learn and educate yourself about Indigenous Peoples History – a history that is starting to be told. Some topics may include:
- Truth and Reconciliation and the 64 Calls to Action
- 60’s Scoop
- The Legacy of the Residential Schools
- UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Indigenous Veterans
- Indian Act
- Royal Proclamation
- The fight to reclaim Indigenous Languages
- Land claims and Governance
- Traditional storytelling, plants, songs, dances, culture and so much more.
As September 30th has come and gone and the wearing of orange shirts has dissipated, remember it is important now more than ever to learn about the histories of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. In order to understand the present, it is crucial to learn about the past.
Canada and BC’s colonial past should never been forgotten, like those little children. But, like any child, we are born into a world with hope and ambition. So we must learn from our past and make this a better world, a better Nation, a better province and a better community.
Education is the tool to make this happen and we will do this together and for each other. The responsibility should not rest on the shoulders of the Indigenous Education Team. The responsibility is all of ours.
- Connie Swan, District Vice-Principal for Indigenous Education
Want to know what Orange Shirt Week looked like inside New Westminster Schools? Read the stories and see the photos here: https://newwestschools.ca/learning-at-the-centre-of-orange-shirt-week/