A tradition that began more than a hundred years ago by residents of the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School has been carried on by students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School.
Like their Indigenous brothers and sisters who inscribed their names onto bricks at the residential school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel students signed their names to paper bricks that will hang in the same, newly restored residential school. However, where the tradition began as a way for residential students to preserve their Indigenous identities, for Mount Carmel students, it was a symbolic gesture to show that their legacy will be remembered.
The activity was part of an inquiry project on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples undertaken by intermediate students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School this past April. Looking at the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the grade 7 and 8 students learned about the mistreatment of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people over the course of the country’s history.
“The students discovered many injustices suffered by our Indigenous people, from the treatment of our Métis people as Canada began to expand into the western territories to create the province of Manitoba, the Government’s interaction with the Métis and Louis Riel, the creation of the Number Treaties that ‘negotiated’ our First Peoples’ land from them, to the creation of the Indian Act, 1876, and the attempt of assimilation of our Indigenous people with the practice of Residential Schools,” explained teacher Philip Daly.
Daly invited Melissa Button, Indigenous Education Lead with the HWCDSB to come to the school and teach students more about Indigenous culture. As well as leading “a thoughtful discussion” on the topic, Button engaged kindergarten students in a water circle song, and led primary, junior and intermediate students in a smudging ceremony and lesson on the medicine wheel.
Also joining students was Rod Nettagog, who led the entire school in a drum circle.
The study unit left a lasting impression on grade 7 and 8 students who decided to help by fundraising for Save the Evidence. The “Save the Evidence” campaign was launched by the Woodland Cultural Centre to preserve one of a few residential schools still standing in Canada – the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School in Brantford, Ontario. The institute was the longest-running residential school in Canada, operating for 142 years. Students raised funds through a bake sale and donations. The two classes together raised $1072 for the campaign.
On June 13, Grade 7 and 8 students presented a cheque to Carley Gallant-Jenkins, Coordinator of the Save the Evidence Campaign.