By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Students from JA Laird Elementary School have welcomed community feedback from businesses in the Columbia Valley, and even from some residential school survivors, on a recent school project.
Between Oct. 17 and 22, 2020, the grade 6 and 7 class, along with other participants, created signs featuring greetings in Secwepemc, Ktunaxa and Métis languages as a way of taking action for Chanie Wenjack’s #DoSomething for Reconciliation Week last fall.
“We’re really appreciative. The kids have been impacted and have seen the impact from businesses,” said Kim Daniele, JA Laird teacher, by phone. “Some businesses have sent us letters (about the signs)… Columbia Gardens had some residential school survivors that wrote letters to the school and (talked about) how much they appreciated it.”
Wenjack’s life is commemorated nationally during Secret Path Week when Canadians honour the young Anishinaabe boy who perished in his efforts to leave residential school in the elements to rejoin his parents. The week was founded by Gord Downie and the Chanie Wenjack Fund with the call to action to #DoSomething, which has recently been met with responses such as #ReconciliACTION on social media.
Daniele credits the Aboriginal Education Support Worker and librarian Jenny Hubrecht for recommending as well as supporting the initiative last fall.
In Daniele’s classroom, students read the story and studied songs by Gord Downie, learned about Wenjack’s life and death, residential schools, commemorated Orange Shirt Day and the longstanding effects that survivors have endured as well as spent time talking to a residential school survivor from the community.
The assignment required participants between grades 4 and 7 to write a persuasive letter to businesses explaining the value in hanging up signs featuring Indigenous languages, and how it pertains to Wenjack’s story, residential schools, reconciliation and the Friendship Agreement that was recently signed between the District of Invermere and the Shuswap Indian Band as well as a hand-crafted poster for each recipient. However, Daniele’s class received several submissions from the community returned to sender by Canada Post for various reasons.
“We’re very appreciative and we love seeing the signs around town,” said Daniele. “If anyone wants one, we’re happy to make one up for you. We just hope that they stay up. Maybe it will encourage people to think more about learning the language of our local First Nations people, and maybe even think about building something more permanent.”
If you would like to request a sign, please e-mail: Kimberly.Daniele@sd6.bc.ca with your contact information.