A project that started early in the 2019-20 school year has been a real learning experience for students at the Estevan Comprehensive School, and has helped further understanding of reconciliation.
The school celebrated the grand reveal of its reconciliation garden, named Ahopa Intchagink’ta (which means respect growing in the Nakota language), on Thursday morning. Located in the school’s courtyard, the permanent area features murals, displays, plants native to this area and other tributes to Indigenous people designed to promote reconciliation.
The leadership 30 and art 20 students completed the project.
“Leadership 30 fit right into this,” said teacher Josh LeBlanc. “Bringing the idea of reconciliation into ECS and how we were going to do it. Because we have the courtyard, this played into this so well.”
LeBlanc noted this started out as a one-semester project that grew into something more.
“We involved lots of people. While we were going through this, the kids researched everything from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to Indian residential schools to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” said LeBlanc.
The plants within the garden came from the SaskPower Shand Greenhouse. Murals are on the east and west side; one deals with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the other looks at the history of Canada’s residential schools.
Along the top of those murals are several calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that deal specifically with education.
Surrounding the garden are the background and the research that the students completed, and quick response (QR) codes that people can scan with their cell phones to watch associated videos and photos.
“It allows you to sit in the garden and hear those survivor stories,” said LeBlanc.
Another code allows people to read the different cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, including those that are unsolved.
The grand reveal celebration served as a tribute to Indigenous culture. Members of the Ocean Man First Nation played drums, sang and performed dances. Elder Peter Bigstone, a survivor of the residential school system, led a smudging ceremony and discussed his experiences in residential schools.
Another residential school survivor, Delmar Quewezance of Estevan, explained his experiences at schools in Regina, which he attended from age five to 17.
Both Bigstone and Quewezance praised the students for their work with the reconciliation garden.
(For more on their speeches, please see this week’s edition of Southeast Lifestyles).
Leadership 30 student Sarah Dacuycuy said it is time for ECS to recognize and reflect upon the injustices that were inflicted upon Indigenous people in this country. She hopes that as the garden grows, the respect, understanding, empathy and healing will grow with it.
“It is no question that generational harm has been caused by actions,” she said. “While it may not have been in this building today that attributed to these actions, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be part of the solution.”
Bernice Haux and Kaylee Carlson from the art 20 project said the project made a lasting impact, not just for those who created it, but for those who will come later. Each student in the art 20 class spent about 10 to 20 hours working on it on their own time, not class time. And they came across so many meaningful stories of the survivors.
The middle panel of the mural for the missing and murdered shows women, unique and different, looking up at butterflies, which Haux and Carlson said are symbols of renewal, beauty and balance.
The old Regina residential school is painted on the other mural.
Two videos were shown during the event as well, documenting the history of challenges facing Indigenous peoples in Canada.
The ceremony ended with a round dance, in which the people who gathered for the reveal held hands and moved around the courtyard in a circle while the drummers played and sang.
Students collaborated with Indigenous people, including Bigstone, for the garden and a lot of it is Nakota-centred with the medicine wheel and other designs.
“We have a First Nations, Indigenous and Métis consultant with the school division, and basically we worked together,” said LeBlanc. “So Peter came in, talked to the kids, shared his story, shared his knowledge with the kids and from that knowledge we developed the project.”
Indigenous people were also consulted for Thursday’s ceremony as well.
LeBlanc had the idea to do something after attending the Cornerstone teachers convention and hearing Dr. Kevin Lamoreux from the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, speak on reconciliation. Lamoreux encouraged people to be part of the solution to build relationships with Indigenous people.
It’s been a real learning process for everyone involved, and they have had lots of discussions about the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation commissions. They listened to residential school survivors, and how they can still remember the smell of the disinfectant.
“To me, to see people go through and have to relive that trauma, is super sad,” said LeBlanc.
The public can drop by the school to view the garden, as long as they inform the front office they are visiting.