The last residential school may have closed in 1996, but the effects it had on Aboriginal people and their culture is still in today’s society. Students and faculty at Port Perry High School have been implementing a new Aboriginal-focused study. In the past, the dark history of Canada has been hidden, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) promised that the poor treatment of Aboriginals would be shared and made right. According to StatsCan, there are about 1.1 million people, as of 2006, in Canada that identify as Aboriginal, which makes the TRC important to all Canadian citizens.
The Canadian government has recently changed to a Liberal majority with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. During the election campaign the Liberals promised that all 94 of the recommendations on the TRC would be enacted. While Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were in parliament the TRC was established, but not all of the acts were being enforced.
“The residential schools worked, they made us ashamed of who we are,” said Michelle Evans, a student success and re-engagement worker with the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Department of the Durham District School Board. Despite the previous governments attempt at keeping the past events hidden from the public eye, the changes made have opened up people’s view and attracted their attention to the other side of our history.
Sarah Cormier, a teacher at PPHS has begun to bring this past into the lives of people at the school, and more importantly, the students of the community. “Aboriginal education is alive and well,” said Cormier.
Some of the students that Cormier teaches at the high school took part in a project for Aboriginal truth seeking called Project of Heart. Project of Hearts’ purpose is to look at the history of Indian Residential Schools and to commemorate the lives of the Aboriginal children who died. The project is aimed to bring attention to the atrocities that happened to the Aboriginal people and get Canadian citizens to come to action to change the present and future views on Aboriginal people.
“These kids, change is within their reach,” said Cormier. The students she teaches are the key to changing the views of the future because they are the future.
The students who are getting involved with these programs are the most important part of the Aboriginal education. The course that Cormier runs is an art course called Expressing Aboriginal Culture. The class is an open elective for students in Grade 9 and 10, but the deciding factor of whether the class runs or not depends on Grade 8 interest.
The students in the class said that the Grade 8 students should definitely be interested. “I like that we don’t read a book, but we still learn,” said Sam Edwards, one of Cormier’s students. “We’re learning it as much as we would if we were taking notes and doing tests. It’s hands-on,” added Keith Middleton, another of Cormier’s students.
These may not be the best reasons for the continuation of the program but it grabs the interest of students and it seems they come out of class with the same knowledge and respect for the culture. “We’re really connected to the culture, and we respect it,” said Brianna Taylor, a student of Cormier.
The kids are so interested in the material covered in class that they are even looking into taking next year’s course if enough students sign up. “I have seen the posters upstairs and I will take it,” said Middleton.
The class is taught with traditional values and forms. Cormier teaches the students about the Seven Grandfather Teachings, which shows the value of respect, truth, love and honesty. One of the less obvious grandfather teachings is bravery. “It [the bear] has courage in its’ heart,” said Taylor. The students used these teachings, along with a quiz, to test for their spirit animal and they had to do a traditional style painting of their animal.
“My name is hummingbird and as a big guy, I didn’t like that name, but as I did more research, I found out they’re really cool,” said Jake Charles, a worker for the Aboriginal education section of the Oshawa Community Health Centre. Jake is a weekly guest at the school; he comes to speak with the Aboriginal Students Association Committee (ASAC).
Expressing Aboriginal Culture grants students one art credit upon completion. The type of class is focused on the culture of Aboriginal people and not boring dates and names of people. The less history-oriented class may be more appealing to younger students, since they must take a mandatory history course.
Canadian history has been glossed over and hidden from the general public’s eye. It is important for today’s children to learn about what happened in the past, especially with Aboriginal people’s history. The new government will hopefully shed more light onto the events of the past and with the current teachings at PPHS, the students of today will be more educated citizens of the future. The future should be open and free of segregation and prejudice based on race.