Okotoks - A pair of Foothills Composite High School students wants the memory of the 215 students’ graves found at a former Kamloops residential school to be heard loud and clear.
That’s why Grade 12 students Ellie Reeve and Olivia Cripps silenced the school for two minutes and 15 seconds in memory of the Kamloops Indian Residential School students on June 4.
“I emailed some teachers and I asked if we could have a moment of silence to acknowledge the fact that this is an important part of our history and it shouldn’t be hidden,” Reeve said.
The students received assistance from Cameron Campos, an English and social studies teacher. Campos was emotionally bowled over by the discovery of the graves on May 28.
“Having taught social studies, I knew things like this existed but this event pushed it into the public eye,” Campos said. “I sent out an email to wear orange shirts on Monday and Ms. Hollings-Killen put up a PowerPoint for the students.
“But for these students to take the time and take that collective moment to pause was a moving way to make sure we don’t just gloss past it.”
Cripps has an aunt who is indigenous.
“We have family who is part of that community,” she said. “It was hard to recognize that (residential schools) was part of our history… I was at my aunt’s house the other day and she was infuriated.”
Reeve said it was important to note the residential school situation is somewhat recent history. The Kamloops residential school was closed in 1978.
She said as a student she was overwhelmed to know youths her age were going through such heart-breaking situations in the past.
“It hit me really hard,” Reeve said. “I am taking school online and I felt distant from what the school was doing on Orange Shirt Day… and I felt it (Kamloops) wasn’t being taken serious enough. So, I went to the teachers and I knew I would get support.”
Cripps said she has been learning about First Nations, but it wasn’t until junior high school that she started learning about “some of the errors” in Canada’s history.
“I don’t think I was aware of the proper name ‘residential school’ until at least Grade 9,” Cripps said. “Ellie and I were that age – if we were part of that culture, it could have been us.”
Campos said it was important to take his frustration after hearing the Kamloops tragedy and channel it as an educational process for his students.
“It’s an emotional thing, I gave the students that open space to have those conversations and out of that came the questions,” Campos said. “Kids want to learn. I just answered the questions I could.”
Campos opted a few years ago to use only indigenous authors for his English classes. He has been able to have two of the authors speak to his classes through Zoom.
His Grade 12 class has just read Moon on the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice, which takes place on a northern Ontario reserve which is impacted by a residential school.
He said education will be key in regards to reconciliation with First Nations.
“In the Truth and Reconciliation commission, education is a key component,” Campos said. “Education got us into this mess under the guise of schooling is how residential schools were presented.
“Now it will be education that will help us move forward. You can’t have reconciliation until you have truth.”
Schools at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools are also dealing with the tragic news out of Kamloops.
“The tragedy in Kamloops is another incomprehensible story of the suffering of Canada’s indigenous people,” said Scott Morrison, CTR Catholic superintendent. “We’ve lowered our flags, posted on social media, and offered prayers, but that’s not enough.
“We plan to engage CTR’s First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Focus Group to develop concrete ideas to determine how to more thoroughly infuse the teaching of Foundational Knowledge across the curriculum next year.”
Residential schools will also be a focus for social studies teachers during future professional development.
“In addition, we will engage our social studies teachers in targeted professional development on these issues to better integrate the topic of residential schools and other indigenous issues into their curriculums next year,” Morrison said. “We’ve identified some formidable indigenous elders and educators to guide us in the work in the past, and we plan to do more of that in the future.”
Read more from OkotoksToday.ca