Student mentors from Mistassiniy School in Wabasca-Desmarais travelled 3,727.6 km down to Toronto, Ont., earlier this month to attend the World Indigenous Peoples Conference (WIPCE).
Curtis Walty, communications co-ordinator for Northland School Division (NSD) No. 61 said in a media release, that the students presented research and a soon-to-be published book that focuses on the conference’s theme for 2017.
“WIPCE draws Indigenous representatives from across the globe to share success and strategies for culturally and grounded Indigenous education,” he said. “The key theme for this year’s conference is the role and impact of Indigenous education in truth and reconciliation,” he says. “The inspiration for this project came after attending WE Day in Calgary with hundreds of other NSD students October 26, 2016. After learning about changing communities from Me to We, the mentors came up with the idea to research about the residential school history in Wabasca-Desmarais.”
For around six months, students spoke with local elders to find out more about their experiences.
“From January until the end of June, 2017, students interviewed elders about their residential school experience at the Elders Lodge in Bigstone Cree Nation, at their homes and at the school,” said Walty. “The mentors received first-hand accounts from elders about life within the missions. The students asked questions, such as what work they had to do there, and what, if any, good memories did they have in residential school.”
Walty says students have walked away from this research-project with a new sense of respect for elders and what they went through.
“It was good, emotional, heart-felt, and rewarding all at once,” said Grade 12 student Leeander Young. “I’m really glad that they (elders) wanted to go back, and share these stories. Many elders want to forget about those memories, so I was happy that they shared their experiences.”
Grade 11 student Zach Zabot added, “It is unbelievable how they (elders) were treated but it’s what made them who they are today, and I am grateful that they were willing to share with us.”
According to Walty, the stories and photos will be published in a book titled ‘Kayas Ayamikamik Acimowina: Old Stories of the Mission’.
“It was an awesome year for the mentors and this piece of work has made it rewarding for not only myself, and the elders, but it will be for the entire community.” said community education engagement co-ordinator/lead mentor Darrell Anderson. “What an emotional display of resilience and experiences our elders had in the residential schools.”
Aside from the book, mentors from Mistassiniy, St. Theresa School, and Bigstone Community School will be commemorating and honouring residential school survivors by building a bench, swing bench and a plaque.
“It will be located where the last mission once stood in Wabasca-Desmarais,” said Walty. “The book will be unveiled in late September.”
Community education engagement co-ordinator Darrell Anderson (far left) speaks along with student mentors (l. to r.) Leeander Young, Hailey Rathbone and Blade Anderson at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference in Toronto.