Saskatchewan

North Central patrol walk shakes up stereotypes for Regina students

A walk through Regina’s North Central neighbourhood with White Pony Lodge is making students at Campbell Collegiate want to work towards reconciliation for the first time in their lives.

'I realized the people we're discriminating against are much more caring to us than we are to them'

Campbell Collegiate teacher, Justin Harrison (far left), poses with a group of his students after a patrol walk through Regina's North Central neighbourhood with White Pony Lodge. (Submitted by Shawna Oochoo)

A walk through Regina's North Central neighbourhood with White Pony Lodge is making students at Campbell Collegiate want to work towards reconciliation for the first time in their lives.

"I feel like the students, they're used to getting the bullet points of atrocities experienced by Indigenous people, and you get a bit of an eye glaze when you bring up the topic," said Justin Harrison, one of the teachers who organized the walk.

Harrison was transferred to Campbell in the fall, after spending nearly a decade working at F.W. Johnson Collegiate — a culturally diverse school he described as fundamentally changing his perspective on Indigenous issues.

Campbell draws students from "more affluent areas in the city," Harrison said, and he felt First Nations issues were "too far removed from their lives and experiences."

"They've kind of made up their decisions and they've inherited their perceptions and … we felt like we needed to do something that was immersive and disruptive."

'History Underground: The road to reconciliation'

Harrison teamed up with fellow teacher Denee Repski, to plan 'History Underground: The road to reconciliation.'

The pair hoped to engage students on a "heart level" by bringing in speakers from different Indigenous organizations in Regina to explain the effects of colonization.

In April, Repski and Harrison took 50 students to spend the day visiting landmarks like the cemetery at the site of the old Regina Indian Industrial School and the memorial for missing and murdered Indigenous women. The visits were paired with talks by elders and community members.

Both teachers described the experience as extremely moving, but said a critical turning point came later in the afternoon.

That's when the students joined White Pony Lodge on a safety patrol around Regina's North Central neighbourhood, looking for drug paraphernalia and contaminated materials. 

'I had never been in that part of Regina'

"I had never been in that part of Regina," said Grade 11 student Kayla Mckenzie.

She described feeling tense and apprehensive, but said the incredible kindness of community members quickly put her at ease. She described a couple walking by the group, who shouted "Hi."

"If they came into my community I know people would judge them," she said.

"I realized the people we're discriminating against are much more caring to us than we are to them."

Campbell students Kayla Mckenzie (left) and Hannah Strinholm (right) both say the experience with White Pony Lodge helped open their eyes to harmful, deeply embedded stereotypes. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

Mckenzie wasn't the only student blown away by the experience.

"I can't even count how many people were honking their horns, waving at us from their cars, saying 'Thank you for doing this,'" recalled Grade 12 student Hannah Strinholm.

'A beautiful neighbourhood'

"I think the biggest lesson I learned is don't judge a book by its cover. You have to get to know people to truly understand what a beautiful neighbourhood it actually is," Strinholm said.

Both young women described the experience as life-changing.

"Before this day I really had this mentality like, 'You need to get through this class to graduate and I don't care about this stuff,'" said Mckenize.

"Now I've realized one of the most important things is changing the perspective of the people around me."

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