This Indigenous coach at the Catholic school board wants to change conversations around reconciliation

Tyler Waddilove of the Munsee-Delaware Nation in southwestern Ontario wants to take concrete action toward reconciliation and bridge the gap between the Catholic school system and Indigenous communities. 

Tyler Waddilove talks to students about Indigenous culture, residential schools, intergenerational trauma

Tyler Waddilove of Munsee-Delaware First Nation works with the London District Catholic School Board as an Indigenous graduation coach. He wants to take concrete actions toward reconciliation (Submitted by Tyler Waddilove)

True reconciliation between Indigenous communities and the Catholic school system is important to Tyler Waddilove of the Munsee-Delaware Nation, located south of London, Ont.

As a way to bridge the existing gap, Waddilove is working as an Indigenous graduation coach at the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB), where he teaches students about his traditional way of life and the intergenerational trauma that resulted from residential schools, many which were run by the Catholic Church. 

"This kind of work is so important for the future and we need to lay the ground work now. The most powerful thing I've experienced is seeing the amount of non-Indigenous students who want to learn more about the culture," he said.

"It all starts with them in bringing us all together and it's so important that we all come together because that's the strength of Canada."

The program, called reconciliACTION, integrates cooking classes, Native literature, dance classes, and a map of Canada that plots where each residential school was and which language was spoken in the area. 

Several members of Waddilove's family were forced to attend residential schools and his mother was a part of the Sixties Scoop, but Waddilove said his unique experience of living in his community while also attending a Catholic high school as teenager allowed him to see common ground between the two cultures. 

"The importance of love is the basis of any religion. Both our cultures have an aspect of heavy spirituality that we have in common, which I want to bring to the students I speak to."

A familiar face showcasing Indigenous identity 

Waddilove is shown with a picture of his parents, who he says are his biggest inspiration in wanting to bridge the gap between Indigenous communities and the Catholic school system (Submitted by Tyler Waddilove)

Waddilove said his stories and cultural practices have inspired several Indigenous students to proudly showcase their own cultural identities.

Vince Romeo, director of education at the Catholic school board, said this program is important because it provides a starting point of undoing the work of hundreds of years of colonization.

"It's provided a familiar face to our Indigenous students. Until we fully understand colonization, intergenerational trauma, and its impact on our Indigenous students, we cannot effectively achieve reconciliation," he said. 

"It is important for us as a Catholic system because 60 per cent of residential schools were run by the Catholic Church and we're working hard to seek a new relationship of reconciliation with Indigenous people."

Waddilove is also aware that his perspective can be met with hostility by some community elders who were impacted by the residential school system and the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at former sites of some schools.

"I completely understand why they [elders] have these doubts and anger because they're still in that trauma. If they don't like the things I talk about, I don't let it affect me in a negative way. I still love and respect them."

Action toward reconciliation

The recent apology by the Pope was a step in the right direction, Waddilove said, adding that reconciliation starts with Indigenous people connecting with their roots and sharing their culture with other Canadians. 

"Growing up, I didn't see many Indigenous kids in my school, so I really want to bring the beauty of our culture and share it with these schools," he said. 

The school board has revised its curriculum to focus more on Indigenous content, which will allow students to learn the important stories of Indigenous people of this country, Romeo said. 

"We are starting to form some really important relationships at Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Munsee-Delaware. These relationships are helping us move forward with reconciliation." 

Waddilove wants to continue spreading positivity through education and hopes the next generation will continue walking the path of reconciliation. 

"I want the kids to know that Indigenous people of Canada are at the beginning stage of their healing. It's going to take some time and we hope to keep that going."