Two Grade 5 students from North Vancouver have been chosen to represent British Columbia at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s Imagine A Canada youth program at the University of Manitoba.
Out of hordes of submissions, only 12 students countrywide were chosen, and not only do two come from the North Shore, but they also both attend St Pius X Elementary School in North Vancouver’s Parkgate community.
Classmates Olivia Wall wrote and performed a reflective song with Maksimas Viskontas writing an insightful and comprehensive essay to address the prompt of envisioning a “Canada reconciled.”
In writing her song, Wall wanted it to sound like a fall day in September, where a young girl walks to school, trying to be cool, but knowing nothing about what happened at residential schools.
In the song, the young girl learns of this at school and now wants to “seek justice from those who were in reign,” adding we must co-operatively “build our home, a native land, together we will walk hand in hand,” Wall sings.
Viskontas' essay focused on the past, present and future states of truth and reconciliation, while acknowledging where we are collectively in the learning process.
“Defining truth and reconciliation is not something simple, but rather a complicated process; one which requires both prudent attention and perseverance,” he wrote, adding “The history of this nation is filled with dark moments. … There is only a single thing we can protect: our future,” implying it is up to all of us to rewrite the future.
Grade 5 teacher Marielle Alviz Lung guided the class-wide projects, as she strives to engage young people in learning about Truth and Reconciliation.
“As a Catholic educator, it’s our duty and responsibility to engage our students and the future generations in difficult but necessary conversations. I am proud of all my students for using the power of their voice in envisioning a reconciled Canada in their own way,” she said.
Lung told the North Shore News that during a year of residential school introspections, especially in a Catholic school, Lung and her class began to read stories such as I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer.
“As we read the book, I invited students to share and reflect on their thoughts by way of a learning journal. This was the first time I had invited students to document their thoughts about residential schools,” she explained. “I was most surprised by their level of interest, understanding and engagement as they continually added to their journals. Their entries were honest and raw and it made me want to find a way to have their voices be heard.”
After months of unpacking our understanding of Truth and Reconciliation, Lung said her students were ready to move from discussions of history and context to action and doing something with this new knowledge.
“I received projects in the forms of essays, artwork, song, poetry, digital media, 3D constructions and multimedia art. Some students reached out to people in Indigenous communities personally. … I was absolutely amazed by our students' level of thought, reflection and understanding of Truth and Reconciliation,” she said.
When reflecting on her own time in school, Lung said the truth about residential schools was not taught – she is now learning alongside her students, and acknowledges that the history she is teaching, “is not even history yet.”
“It’s taken a long time as a collective to get to a point where we can have open conversations about this and what we’d like our future to look like… we have yet to know how this story will be written in our future history books but I know this generation will be among the movers, shakers and leaders to make a change for the better,” Lung said.
A national celebration for all 12 project winners will be held by the centre in June.
Charlie Carey is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.