Sudbury

Wikwemikong students craft what reconciliation means to them

A unique opportunity to get students talking about reconciliation was too good to pass up for a high school teacher in Wikwemikong First Nation, Ont.

First Nations and non-First Nations students to discuss reconciliation while they create

A unique opportunity to get students talking about reconciliation was too good to pass up for a high school teacher in Wikwemikong First Nation, Ont.

The movement known as Craft Reconciliation encourages First Nations and non-First Nations students to discuss the topic, and then craft their ideas through a computer game called Minecraft.

The idea was first put forward by Manitoba politician Wab Kinew. He challenged First Nations and non-First Nations students to talk openly about reconciliation, and then craft their ideas through the computer game or through any medium they feel comfortable.

Julie Balen's class of First Nations students has been primarily speaking through Google Hangouts with students in the Simcoe County District School Board, which is made up mostly of non-Aboriginal students.

"The students are really, really engaged in the process," she said. "Of course, a number of them are engaged because they know they're heading into Minecraft. But they're engaged regardless of what their product is."

Balen said reconciliation has been discussed in her class before, but is being brought up more frequently after the Truth and Reconciliation report was released last year. She said having conversations with non-First Nations students has allowed them to ask questions, and the opportunity for her students to respond and correct stereotypes.

'You want to learn'

Student Austin Pangowish said it's been beneficial to have a conversation about reconciliation with non-First Nations students.

"It's pretty eye-opening," he said. "We just talk about what we think would be the right way to start reconciliation, what the best suggestion would be for everyone in Canada to learn about."

Conversations between the students are ongoing and, now, they're starting to craft their ideas on reconciliation.

Several are using the computer game Minecraft, including Pangowish. He said he's building a conference centre that would provide a space for different cultures to come together and learn about each other.

"This site would be a place where everybody could come and not discriminate anybody about what they believe in," he explained. "You'd come there to learn what you want to learn."

Challenging 'stereotypes'

Michael Oshkabewisens, another student in Balen's class, is also using Minecraft. He said he's been researching different cultures and beliefs, including his own, and focusing on the anatomy of one's spirit and a deeper understanding of it. In Minecraft, he's building a school to teach people about finding their own spirit and inner peace.

"I guess the idea of it is just to change the education system that we have, because when we go to school … we don't learn about how to take care of yourself and your own spiritual health," he said.

"A lot of people get problems from that growing older [and] they don't know how to function in society or even around other people. My idea was to build a school that would teach people other things rather than learning English and math — we'd still learn that stuff, but it would just be a more evolved school I guess."

Other students in Balen's class are turning to other creative ways to express their ideas. Adrian Trudeau is expanding on a Wikipedia page he started last year that looks at stereotypes.

"Not only First Nations stereotypes, but also Canadians, Americans, Muslims and Chinese and looking at all the connections and how it relates to everyone," he said.

"I think reconciliation should be happening all over the world, not just in Canada."

Students 'really engaged'

Other students are turning to music, including Kira Dowdall. She and two other students are writing a song. Dowdall said this process hasn't necessarily changed her views or thoughts about reconciliation, but said it has given her a chance to express her ideas she already has on the topic.

"To give a point of a view from a Native person, myself, is to give our own view on what reconciliation means to us," she said.

Balen acknowledged discussing reconciliation can be difficult with high school students, but said approaching it in this way has been a positive experience.

"The students are really, really engaged in the process," she said.

"Of course, a number of them are engaged because they know they're heading into Minecraft, but they're engaged regardless of what their product is — whether they're song-writing, or painting or creating other original products — they're really engaged in the content. It's clearly relevant for them [and] it's meaningful for them."