Halifax schools could start each day with recognition of Mi'kmaq lands

The Halifax Regional School Board is considering adding a statement during morning announcements acknowledging that schools are on Mi'kmaq land.

Statement acknowledging Mi'kmaq lands would be read along with announcements and O Canada

The Mi'kmaq flag flies outside Dalhousie University on April 21, 2017. (Robert Short/CBC)

Morning announcements could soon sound a bit different at schools in the Halifax Regional School Board.

The board is considering adding a statement to be made each morning that acknowledges that schools and students are on Mi'kmaq land. The statement would be read along with the announcements and the playing of the national anthem.

School board representative Jennifer Raven proposed the idea to the board's policy committee on April 19.

Raven said she came across a story about the Toronto District School Board doing something similar in response to education recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. She thought it would be a good idea to implement in Halifax, too.

Board meetings include statement

The Halifax Regional School Board already opens its meetings with the statement, "We acknowledge that this meeting is being held on Mi'kmaq territory."

"I thought if we open our meetings with that ... (I'm) wondering why we don't do it in the schools," Raven said.

While Raven has not suggested wording for the statement, she said it should be short and easily understandable by children of all ages.

"I don't want it to just be something that you recite and it becomes tedious and doesn't have any meaning," she said.

The Halifax Regional School Board is considering including a statement during its schools' morning announcements acknowledging that students are on Mi'kmaq land. (Rob Short/CBC)

Further education important

The school board's elected Mi'kmaq representative, Jessica Rose, said if a statement is introduced, she hopes it will help Mi'kmaq students feel proud and accepted by their peers.

Rose said when she was growing up, she had a lot of support but still struggled a bit with accepting her culture.

Other students at her school didn't feel as supported. A morning acknowledgement of being on Mi'kmaq land could have made a difference for those students.

It would mean that I would get to reconnect with my heritage that's been denied for decades.- Kristen Carew, Grade 12 student

"I think it would have just been kind of an affirmation for them to be proud of who they are and to embrace their culture … and talk about it more and teach their friends," she said.

Rose said it's important that the statement be accompanied by appropriate education about Mi'kmaq history. While the curriculum for primary to Grade 6 students does include treaty education, and older students do learn about Mi'kmaq culture and heritage, there's always room for more lessons, Rose said.

"Just a spiel at the beginning of the day definitely is not enough. But I think it's a move in the right direction and I think it can grow from there."

Students excited

Matthew Hughson, a Grade 12 student at Millwood High School, said he's thrilled with the idea.

"I was actually very excited and happy to hear about this proposal," said Hughson, who is Mi'kmaq. "I ... almost overflowed with joy."

The morning statement could help educate non-Aboriginal students about Mi'kmaq heritage, he said.

"It's not something that everybody learns about. It's not something that everybody understands, and sometimes it can lead to people being disrespectful.... So I feel like by putting this into place, it would open the door for conversations and learning opportunities and more people would come to understand it. More people would respect it, and ultimately it would just make me feel more welcome and better recognized in my own school."

Grade 12 student Kristen Carew, who is Mi'kmaq, says it would 'mean the world' to have the contributions of Aboriginal people recognized, particularly as Canada commemorates its 150th anniversary. (Patricia Bourque/Facebook)

Kristen Carew, also a Mi'kmaq student in Grade 12 at the school, said the statement would make her feel empowered.

"It would mean that I would get to reconnect with my heritage that's been denied for decades and it would just mean the world to me," she said.

"Especially when it's coming up close to Canada's 150th birthday — Canada's been around longer than that. Its people and my ancestors have been around longer than that. Just something to acknowledge that we were here … that would be awesome."

A school board staff member has contacted the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax to discuss possible wording of the statement. The proposal will need to be voted on and approved by elected board members before it is introduced.

Raven said she hopes the morning acknowledgement will be in place by September.