Listening, Reflecting, and Honouring Warriors

September 29, 2022

Truth and Reconciliation Learning in Langley Schools

If you walked or drove by a public school in Langley during the month of September, it was likely you saw students wearing orange or noticed the building sprinkled with orange. In the lead up to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, students, staff, and members of the community took part in learning activities to gain a deeper understanding of the residential schools and the negative impacts that stemmed from the system.

September 30 is also recognized as Orange Shirt Day, a day to remember and honour those warriors of residential schools and those that did not return. It is also a day to acknowledge that “Every Child Matters.” It is an initiative that has become an annual tradition in Langley and around the country which was started by Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, a child who had her orange shirt taken away, upon entering the residential school she was forced to attend in Mission, BC. You can learn more about Orange Shirt Day here. Wearing orange shirts throughout the month of September is one of many ways students, staff, and families in the Langley School District honour those warriors like Phyllis Webstad.

At Blacklock Fine Arts, one class of students used artwork to learn about residential schools and their lasting impacts. Teacher Ceilidh McConnell led the class in a conversation about how art is influenced by things around them. Similarly, the class later discussed how art can also be disrupted by things around them. The students created pictures of beautiful, calm, peaceful landscapes, and then added a “disruptive” handprint to represent something related to residential schools or something meaningful to them.

“For some of them it was the fight for the land to come back,” said Ceilidh McConnell explaining the significance of the handprints.

“For some of them was the idea of grabbing, some of them resonated with the idea of stop doing this, stop fighting for good instead of bad. There were just lots of different ideas and really cool conversations around the idea,” explained McConnell.

According to the student interpretations, some of the handprints signified the children that died in residential schools, the loneliness families of residential school warriors may have felt, but some opted for a more positive tone, including handprints representing hope for those students that were able to leave.

At Dorothy Peacock Elementary, students took part in a school-wide activity led by Aboriginal Support Worker Keysha Kingston. The students took orange paper hearts and wrote their own reflections and completed the sentence “I matter because…” as a way to reinforce the theme that “Every Child Matters.” These orange paper hearts covered the school like a blanket and was a strong and welcoming visual presentation.

Some of the hearts said things like “I matter because my mom loves me. I matter because I am treating others how I want to be treated. I matter because I am creative.”

Principal Shawn Davids says it was an activity that brought the school community together and was empowering to students.

“I loved that it gave students an opportunity to value themselves,” said Davids.

“To say to themselves, ‘I am important’ and to know the importance of students that were in residential schools, and to give them the chance to just pause and know that you belong and that you matter,” he added.

At Yorkson Creek Middle School, students and staff gathered for a powerful and emotional assembly. Aboriginal Support Worker Luke Dandurand shared a video that he created in collaboration with a university nursing student, which was a short documentary-style feature about his mother Josette Dandurand. Josette Dandurand, who is a Kwantlen First Nation elder, is also a living warrior who had attended three different residential schools. In the video, through her memories, thoughts, and feelings, she paints a picture of what it was like going to residential schools for the first time. She also shares moments from various life stages including joining the military, getting married, having children, and continuing to stand up for Indigenous rights. The digital project was shown to kickstart a digital media project which the students will be embarking on in this school year.

“Part of our teachings here at the school, and with the school board, is to know that this is just not a one-day teaching. This is an everyday teaching,” said Luke Dandurand.

“Learning to honour and to contribute to Indigenous teachings is going to be a year-long project,” remarked Dandurand about the school-wide digital media project.

As part of the project, Dandurand will be providing classes of students access to photos and content from the Kwantlen First Nation to be used in their story telling projects.

At the school board office, staff participated in a learning session led by District Principal of Aboriginal Education Mike Pue, to help build on their understanding of the shared history and the ongoing effects of colonization. As part of the District’s efforts to acknowledge the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in a meaningful way, the District lowered all flags at schools and sites for the week through to October 3. In addition, an “Every Child Matters” flag was raised at the south entrance of the school board office. You can read more about the half-masting of flags here. The District is encouraging all students, staff, and families to spend time listening, reflecting, and continuing with their own learning on September 30.