Over 100 organizations, and 1000 participants

By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The halfway point of the Every Child Matters Year-long Learning Challenge is upon us. The challenge, executed by the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) has made a huge impact on Columbia Valley residents as they continue to learn more about the history of First Nations. 

Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was September 30, 2021, marking a day to reflect on the atrocities Indigenous people endured at the hands of the Canadian government. 

United in orange, Indigenous Peoples and allies alike echoed the phrase: “Every Child Matters!” CBEEN’s challenge began on Oct. 1, 2021, and will run a full year, ending on Sept. 30, 2022 – the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“We started advertising this challenge in September to get people interested and the first email went out on Oct. 1,” says Jenna Jasek, School District 6 Vice Principal for Indigenous Learning and Equity. Orange Shirt Society founder of Every Child Matters, and Orange Shirt Day have been excited to be a partner on this initiative. Over 1000 participants and 100 organizations that include Rocky Mountain School District, as well as others across the Canadian Columbia Basin are involved in this pilot project. 

“The purpose of this challenge is help encourage learning going beyond just one day on September 30, and to provide support, resources and encouragement to make learning about Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, history and culture a deeper part of our lives to help to enable real change over time,” says Duncan Whittick, Executive Director of CBEEN. “We challenge participants to take time each week to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous knowledge, culture, perspectives, issues and ways they can take action towards reconciliation. We support this by providing weekly emails with suggestions for things participants can read, do in their own communities. We know that without this, we cannot make deeper connections to our local land to ensure stewardship of it for generations to come.”

Partners in this project, Whittick and Jasek, have been working tirelessly together to help elevate the conversation in the valley along the Columbia River by bringing together key community organizations. 

The aim was to ensure that the heightened awareness after the widespread exposure of the remains of the Indigenous children found in Kamloops was not just part of a newsfeed or only recognized one day a year. Together in the beginning of this challenge, they went through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, reading the ‘Calls to Action’ each week to make it easier for participants to take in. Since the birth of this initiative, the two meet up weekly at Pynelogs Cultural Centre, often discovering their best ideas in the beautiful nature around Dorothy Lake.

“We often follow our heart or go with a strong topic of the week,” says Jasek. “We just give everyone a little task each week or an event to check out like last week we had a presenter from the education sector for the Moose Hide Campaign which took place last Thursday. She presented and we did some reading and exploring afterwards on the campaign. That was really powerful!” 

This brainchild began the previous summer through getting Every Child Matters flags out in the community. “A lot of people had these flags displayed last summer so that was really neat,” says Jasek. Since then, that effort became the year-long challenge, and the feedback has positively poured in. Whether it be through learning materials, online events or virtual gatherings with Indigenous leaders and organizations, what has been created here, gives a safe space to start and continue the conversation and learn from, and fix past mistakes that were made.”

“Obviously, this work should have started in earnest decades ago, but like anything, it has to start somewhere, and everyone is at a different place,” says Whittick. “The TRC Calls to Action and UNDRIP have really helped to provide a framework and foundation for this, and we are just trying to do our best to deepen our own understanding and knowledge. As both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who share this land. We aim to provide encouragement, support, and resources for others to do the same. This is a lifelong learning process, but that length of time can’t deter people from doing what they can right now, and on an ongoing basis.”

For more information on CBEEN’s Every Child Matters Year-long Learning Challenge visit: cbeen.ca/every-child-matters.