P.E.I. school forging a path toward reconciliation with help from Lennox Island
'I want to show that if we come together we can change things, we can move forward'
Students at École Saint-Augustin in Rustico, P.E.I., are forging a path toward reconciliation, thanks to a new partnership with members of the Lennox Island First Nation.
That partnership came from the initiative of teacher Julie Gagnon, whose vision around reconciliation extended beyond a solitary act, and centred on relationship building.
"My vision about truth and reconciliation, it's not just words and action in a one-time deal; it's a commitment," said Gagnon.
"We need to get together and to learn from each other and respect each other and share our culture between each other — and with that, we can aim [for] the same vision."
Since November, officials with the school have been working in collaboration with members of Lennox Island First Nation on a series of activities to engage students in active cultural learning — from building miniature teepees to creating their own talking stick.
"It's just our way to introduce them to some of the things that we use in our culture, and really, teaching them about ceremony," said Jamie Thomas, director of culture and tourism for Lennox Island First Nation.
"The connection between the Acadian [and] Mi'kmaw culture is kind of significant. So we're trying to embed that into the activities that we have as well."
That connection between the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq is centuries deep, and includes the Indigenous community supporting — and in some cases sheltering — families who were being forcibly deported between 1755 and 1763 during the Acadian Expulsion.
"That element of survival was there," said Thomas. "As Mi'kmaw people, we really helped to ensure that the Acadians were taken care of in a time of need and that's who we are, as Mi'kmaw people, that is what we do.
"To celebrate that and talk about how that continues in our day-to-day lives, you know, even in modern times, it's really important for people to understand that, because it is our shared history."
For student Keira Dionne-Arsenault, learning about the talking stick, making one of her own and being immersed in Mi'kmaw culture has been eye-opening.
"I learned that it is used for many things in the Mi'kmaw culture. It is used for speaking and it is used sometimes for resolving conflicts," said Dionne-Arsenault.
She said she plans to share what she's learned with her family, and she feels proud to be building her own bond with the Mi'kmaq of P.E.I.
"It felt like a pulling between me and the Mi'kmaw culture, and it felt like we were all as one … it just felt really nice."
Gagnon said there's immense satisfaction at seeing her vision become a reality; with active, ongoing reconciliation now a part of the fabric of her school community.
"I want them to become advocates for this," said Gagnon.
"I want to show that if we come together, we can change things, we can move forward."
This week, a ceremony was held to raise the Mi'kmaw flag at the school. Before the end of the academic year, students in Grades 3-6 will travel to Lennox Island for a full day of activities — everything from a tour of the museum to a reconciliation ceremony.
And work will continue on a full-size teepee and wigwam behind the school that will someday be used as outdoor learning spaces.
"This is the best approach," Thomas said.
"Oftentimes what we see is, you know, people want to work toward reconciliation and achieving reconciliation, but it ends up being, you know, a one-shot deal. But this to me is a real, true partnership in working toward reconciliation at this level."