Since colonial times and after the formation of Canada through Confederation in 1867, the Indigenous population of Canada has been subject to systematic discrimination and mistreatment. Despite pre-existing Royal treaties and post-Confederation numbered Treaties, the Canadian government embarked upon intentional programs that were destructive to Indigenous people and Indigenous culture and ignored the spirit and letter of the treaties. For example, the government used the Treaty right of education to develop the Residential School System. This system removed children from the parents and separated families from their culture. Over seven generations this policy allowed the devaluing of Indigenous people to be the culture of Canada and had terrible impact on the lives of Indigenous children, families and their culture. In 2008 as part of the federal government’s apology to indigenous people, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was created. The Commission heard the stories of the Residential School survivors and produced the extensive TRC Report in 2015 that included 92 recommendations or “Calls to Action” to the Canadian people. One was that the history of residential schools be authentically taught and spoken about in schools.
Following the release of the TRC Report, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation was formed under the direction of the Elders council with the vision of bringing the recommendations to life. One of the ways the NCTR has chosen to bring the recommendations to life is a through a leadership initiative which is a national contest called “Imagine a Canada.” This contest is way for young people to imagine a Canada where the history of residential schools was understood and where true reconciliation was accomplished.
In the early 2018, three girls from Gonzaga Middle School submitted a painting to “Imagine a Canada.” Their painting, named The Truth, depicts six turtles swimming up from deep waters toward a light at the surface. This picture represents all living things, as all living things deserve to live a peaceful life no matter what colour, race, gender, age or class. The turtles were selected because they represent Truth in Indigenous Sacred Teachings. The turtles swimming toward the light represent Residential School Survivors coming to the light and telling their stories. The different coloured turtles are swimming peacefully together, representing equality. Some of the turtles may find it difficult to get to the light, but they will all end up there. These girls, along with their painting, were selected from a pool of more than four hundred submissions to represent Manitoba at the leadership initiative. They attended workshops with provincial and territorial winners from across Canada led by elders at the NCTR at University of Manitoba and at Turtle Lodge on Sagkeeng First Nation. The program concluded with an award ceremony at the National Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.
Gonzaga Middle School is committed to reconciliation by following a path that recognizes its shared relationship as Treaty One members and relations in our beautiful home of Manitoba. As part of a commitment to this relationship, GMS will seek out Indigenous teachers, knowledge keepers, and involve itself in community events in a supportive and educational role. Everyone directly involved in the school program will receive training in Indigenous education, culture and history.