Calgary students step toward reconciliation with symbolic walk

Hundreds of Calgary children from two schools united in a symbolic and colourful gesture Thursday morning.

More than 1,000 students and teachers celebrate with traditional powwow at MRU

Chiila Elementary School students in Grades 3 and 4 walk toward Mount Royal University Thursday morning as they prepare to meet their Grade 7 buddies from Connect Charter School. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Hundreds of Calgary children united in a symbolic gesture Thursday morning to illustrate what it means to walk the path of reconciliation.

Indigenous students carrying colourful eagle staffs and First Nations flags met Connect Charter School students, who carried handmade signs that read "Reconciliation starts with me," and "Treaty 7 proud" in the southwest community of Lakeview.

The students then walked together across the 37th Street interchange to Mount Royal University, where they participated in a traditional powwow with performances by Tsuut'ina dancers, drummers and singers.

Students from Calgary Connect Charter walk toward Mount Royal University, to participate in a traditional powwow alongside First Nations students. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The event was part of a larger project to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together through collaboration between schools, said Phil Butterfield, principal at Connect Charter School.

"This is not just a one-day event or something that's gonna happen, and then we move on and check off that box on our list. It's very important that this be part of now a sustainable future commitment," he said.

"We can learn a great deal from them, and we know we can."

Roughly 1,000 students, guests, teachers and members of the community gather to watch traditional dance, song and drumming at Mount Royal University on Thursday. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Building mutual respect

For student Lindsay Henderson, it was an opportunity to find cultural common ground and build upon it.

"They're really similar to us in so many different ways," she said. 

"Our ancestors in the past, we haven't treated them very nicely, like equals," she went on.

"We've treated them more like we're more important and that we matter more than them, which isn't true; every culture matters a lot to us. We're trying to heal that wound," she explained.

Lindsay Henderson says she especially appreciates learning the stories and cultural meaning behind various First Nations dances. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Hal Eagletail, a leader in the Tsuut'ina Nation and emcee at the powwow, said it's important for children to develop an appreciation of other cultures while they're still young, so that it shapes their interactions and behaviours as they grow older.

"If they grow up to be kindhearted and humble, and genuinely knowledgeable on each other's cultural identity, they're gonna have a mutual respect for each other, and that's what it's all about," Eagletail said.

Hal Eagletail says there is much that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can glean by engaging with the other's culture and values. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

With files from Monty Kruger