Students Celebrate Indigenous Awareness Week

Truth, Recognition, Understanding, Empathy. Ridley prides itself on celebrating diversity, and last week the T.R.U.E Indigenous student group shone a light on Canada’s indigenous peoples and cultures, with an engaging collection of activities, guest speakers, music and storytelling. Spearheaded by Anthony Nyguen ’18, the week-long event included such initiatives as the Moccasin Project, unity bracelet making, musical performances and a screening of The Secret Path in Mandeville Theatre. “In unity, we were able to discover a range of Aboriginal knowledge and develop a mindset of acceptance,” said Nyguen ’18 in reflection of the week. We invite you to read a full recap of the week written by Ms. Michele Bett, Head of Upper School.

Indigenous Awareness Week

by Michele Bett, Head of Upper School

Wade Davis, the Chief Explorer for the National Geographic organization, has said that the central revelation of anthropology is that none of us lives in an absolute, objective world and that there are as many versions of reality as there are human cultures across the planet. He points out that the 6,000 languages spoken on earth are all vehicles through which the soul of a culture is made real and that this linguistic and cultural diversity is humanity’s precious heritage and something to be defended.

He also tells us that he was raised – in the forests of British Columbia – to believe that those forests were meant to be cut down. He says that this belief and way of upbringing makes him a different person than someone raised – in the Amazon rainforest – to believe that the forest is the living home of spirits who will need to be engaged with during initiation rituals. Closer to home, the indigenous peoples of Canada, in spite of many challenges and hardships, continue to treasure their distinctive spiritual relationship with the land and other natural resources. So how can we acknowledge our differences all the while defending and promoting cultural diversity? This was the question our student group, TRUE, asked us to explore as a community and these are some of the answers we discovered.

We began this exploration by inviting many visitors to campus. Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux , former Vice-Provost (Aboriginal Initiatives) at Lakehead University, Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and a member of the Governing Circle for the Centre For Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Winnipeg shared stories of life in Canadian residential schools for indigenous children. She captured the undivided attention of her Upper School audience as she narrated stories of hardship and suffering. Those most vulnerable of all were torn from families, stripped of native languages and robbed of identity. Cynthia taught us that before we can move on, we must acknowledge these sufferings and hardships. We may not be the generation responsible for bringing a people to the brink of cultural genocide, but we are a generation committed to ensuring that this story is told and never repeated. We learned that afternoon  that Canada’s precious heritage is rooted and enriched by its diversity.

In our moccasin making activity, visiting Elders continued to talk about indigenous children.  Our visitors showcased and preserved their traditions and educated our students on the power of aboriginal cultures and the significance of moccasins in this story. As we made these tiny shoes, our students scribbled and attached messages of hope. They hoped that these young First Nation’s children would begin their joyous journey home to their languages, cultures and traditions. We learned that although we wear different shoes, we walk our path together.

Michele-Elise Burnett ’86 of the Métis offered the Métis Sash to the Ridley family and explained that “traditionally when a child has learned to help bring food and water and contribute to the Métis community they are gifted a sash and, Ridley, by bringing awareness of the indigenous people, has helped bridge our cross-culture communities together and has begun to build a shared brighter future.” She went on to explain that this week provided space for indigenous people to be indigenous in our community, and she encouraged us to implement and practice the Two Rows Wampum Principals. We learned that although different, we can rekindle our mutually profound covenant in the service of peace and begin healthy dialogues amongst each other; we can “polish away the tarnish on existing relationships so we can walk the Two Row Again!”

After a week packed with many activities, guest speakers, music and storytelling, in our celebration of Canada’s indigenous peoples and cultures, we considered our role in protecting, supporting and honouring each other’s heritage. Much like Wade Davis, the students at Ridley College arrived at their own central revelation: together, we are custodians of one earth, and together we remain committed to the equal and intrinsic worth of every single individual regardless of ethnicity or any other classification. Ridleians are not asked to consider what they might be upon graduation; instead, they are charged with the very responsibility of making a difference and being a real force for good. Student groups at Ridley, such as TRUE, convince us that humanity’s precious heritage is indeed in very safe hands!

Terar Dum Prosim

Michele Bett
Head of Upper School

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