Learning our own history and the racism and miscarriages of basic human rights and justice is important. The United States has long grappled with the existence of slavery in its past and the tumultuous path of moving forward. Canada as a country has needed to step off its moral high ground and reframe our understanding of ourselves. As we grapple with the existence of the Chinese head tax, Japanese internment camps, and now residential schools that existed for the purpose of cultural genocide, how can we move forward to a place of respect and appreciation?
The final presentation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa was met with skepticism or hope, depending on who you are. I am a “cup is half full kind of girl” and firmly in the hope camp. I believe there is a path forward. I attended the multi-faith service that brought United, Presbyterian and Anglican leaders and congregations together at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church. Jen was leading the children’s program and explained to the children that when Europeans first came to North America, they weren’t able to see the beauty in the people already living here. Doug White, an inspirational and articulate former Snuneymuxw chief and Nanaimo lawyer, spoke passionately about how he wanted his grandchildren to be loved unconditionally not just tolerated. Owning the tragedy and moving forward without bitterness is one face of truth and reconciliation. Another face is learning about and embracing our collective history and celebrating what Aboriginal people bring to the table or as Jen would frame it, “seeing the beauty in the people who were here first”.
Our playground opening ceremony was a sight to behold. Our dignitaries including student leaders, parents, community build volunteers from Overwaitea, our Habitat cheerleader and preschool families took their seats. Primary students processed from the school carrying class paper chains and made a huge ring around the new primary playground ready for the honorary “paperchain cutting” by the PAC chairperson. Grade 5-7 students took their places on the field. The grade three and four students in divisions 9, 10, and 11 were the final students to process in.
Student led morning announcements include the acknowledgement and gratitude that we work and play on the ancestral lands of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh people. We are fortunate to work with Dena Galay, the Aboriginal School Support Worker, assigned to Tecumseh. She has worked with students, facilitated programs and even shared
stories, information and artifacts made by her mom with our students as they studied the contribution and experiences of Aboriginal people in Canada. For the opening ceremony, she brought cedar boughs for the playground and led three student drummers and the students of the three final divisions in a grand procession to make another circle around the playground and primary students. They chanted the words “hosiem” and “hatchka” from the Musqueam Haikomelen dialect, honoring and providing thanks for the space. More than half of Aboriginal languages in the country reside in B.C., according to a 2010 report from the First Peoples’ Heritage, Languages and Culture Council. There are only 278 fluent speakers of all three Halkomelem dialects.
Ms. Galay also spoke the words she always uses when she finishes off a sessions with our students in Dene, Cree, Ojibway and Iroquois, languages from her childhood home in Saskatchewan. The children responded with the English version: “All our relations”. Ben followed up with the familiar and well loved poem called “And My Heart Soars”, by Chief Dan George. “The beauty of the trees…the softness of the air…the fragrance of the grass…the (view of the) summit of mountains…” did speak to us. And our hearts soared. And yes, my hope for continued truth, understanding and meaningful reconciliation grows.