Late January, Mike Downie joined DWF staff in visiting several Legacy Schools; Linwood Public School, Kitchener-Waterloo Vocational & Collegiate Institute (KCI), Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) and Ryerson Public School in Cambridge. Every Legacy School begins the journey to understanding our shared Canadian history from a different place – be it location, age, knowledge – and it was a truly beautiful experience to have the opportunity to visit elementary, middle, and high school students to learn where they are in their journeys. Conversations were had about the great initiatives students and teachers have been doing, and Mike shared stories about how the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund came to be, the development of Secret Path, and what it means to see the important work being done by students. As Mike stated, “Gord knew we needed to get into schools.”
Linwood, Ontario – a shared David Martin Mennonite community just outside of Toronto – was our first stop. Mr. Piva’s grade 8 class at Linwood Public School greeted Mike Downie with exuberance and kindness that showed how enjoyable learning can be. Students were happy to share the work they’d been doing in understanding the connections between World War II internment camps and residential schools. Mike was treated to a beautiful rendition of the song “The Stranger” from Secret Path, and a few students shared their written responses to the Secret Path graphic novel, showcasing empathy and a desire for change. Students then presented Mike and the Fund with all sorts of handmade gifts, along with stunning wooden artwork which Mr. Piva himself created.
Next, we went to Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) where staff and students from Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) joined us for lunch, eager to share all of the amazing things they have been doing. Students and educators went around the round table sharing reconciliACTIONs and personal stories of what reconciliation and this journey meant to them. The dedication to ensure that Indigenous perspectives and knowledge is engrained throughout all curriculum throughout the year was abundantly apparent. The drama teacher at WCI showed us an amazing play her students created, combining Phyllis Webstad and Chanie Wenjack’s residential school stories. During Secret Path Week, the physical education classes beat the collective Walk For Wenjack challenge to walk 600km in honour of Chanie, walking over 1600km. Students in French class are now able to choose Indigenous studies under the french umbrella. And one young student, upon learning about residential schools and the ongoing trauma, was some moved he immediately took action to “Do Something”. He initiated a fundraiser to help a local Indigenous group work for clean water in Six Nations. This same student, once learning of our upcoming visit, took up another collection that he happily presented to Mike for DWF. The stories and energy shared were truly incredible. A huge thank you to Ms. Allinotte for organizing such an amazing group on short notice and providing us with a wonderful lunch.
Our last stop was at Ryerson Public School in Cambridge to visit Ms. Gill’s amazing grade 5 students, who were the primary catalysts for this journey. Her class created art cards in December to celebrate over 40 Indigenous artists, which students then sold the cards and raised $520.00 for the Fund. Students all took turns showing us the incredible learning that was taking place at such a young age. Two students explained the artwork they designed for the classroom door depicting Gord and Chanie. We were also shown a display showcasing the seven grandfather teachings, walls that highlighted teaching about treaties and wampums, a display in which students debated whether they should rename their school after learning who Egerton Ryerson is, and individual displays that showcased important figures in Canada’s Indigenous history. It was truly impressive! We were then treated to the grade 3 class sharing what they were learning about important Indigenous medicines like sage, tobacco, cedar, and sweetgrass.
It was a truly special day. Thank you so much to all of the fantastic teachers that go above and beyond to make education engaging and important, and for preparing our future leaders to be kind and knowledgeable. Mike Downie was incredibly impressed and inspired, his brother would be proud.