TDSB schools now pay daily tribute to Indigenous lands they're built on
Hundreds of Toronto District School Board schools started the acknowledgments at the start of this school year
She may be just 13 years old, but Irene Martinez picks up the microphone inside the principal's office and switches it on without hesitation.
She has, after all, been reading morning announcements at Hollycrest Middle School in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke since Grade 6.
But this year, there's something new.
After she asks students to stand for O Canada, and before she announces her classmates' birthdays, she reads a statement:
"In keeping with Indigenous protocol, I would like to acknowledge this school is situated upon traditional territories," she begins in a clear voice. "The territories include the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, and the Métis Nation."
"The treaty was signed for the particular parcel of land that is collectively referred to as The First Purchase and applies to lands west of Brown's Line to Burlington Bay and north to Eglinton Avenue.
"I also recognize the enduring presence of Aboriginal Peoples on this land."
The acknowledgment, three short paragraphs, is now part of the morning ritual at all 588 schools across the Toronto District School Board.
"I think it's very necessary and very important," said Irene, who's now in Grade 8. "There are many people who come to Hollycrest who have an Aboriginal background."
Her classmate, Amira Elnour, 13, agrees. "If people don't really recognize them, and know what's going on, they're going to feel they're not a part of the country, and a part of the school, and they're different," she said.
"I think more people should be aware of what's happening with the Aboriginal people."
The TDSB first started acknowledging traditional lands at its meetings in June 2015.
The idea for all schools to do the same was put forward by the board's Aboriginal Community Advisory Committee this past May. It officially started at the beginning of this school year.
Community elder and committee member Duke Redbird was part of the consultation process.
"From a time when I was in school, when I was growing up and denied any access to my own culture, language, traditions and so on," said Redbird, "70 years later, to see it being introduced and little ones so proud of their heritage ... it's full circle."
The Beginning of a Journey
Stepping inside Hollycrest Middle School, celebrations of Indigenous traditions and culture are everywhere.
A bright mural shows the Seven Sacred Teachings greets visitors in the front hallway, and there is a large map indicating Hollycrest sits on Treaty 13A territory. The library is also home to dozens of books by Aboriginal authors.
"I do have some Indigenous heritage myself, so it makes it a personal interest, but I don't think that's a requirement at all," said vice-principal Mervi Salo.
She calls it the beginning of a journey.
"The important thing is we don't just read the acknowledgment and check it off on a list, and say, 'OK, we're doing our job,'" said Salo.
"What our next step is, is working with students and staff to make sure we understand what it really means, and help support that learning."