Aura Azak 9, a Grade 5 student at Conrad Elementary is painting rocks as a ‘reconciliACTION’ to commemorate Secret Path Week part of Truth and Reconciliation learning from Oct. 17 to 22, which recognizes the death of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack after fleeing a residential school in 1966.

Aura Azak 9, a Grade 5 student at Conrad Elementary is painting rocks as a ‘reconciliACTION’ to commemorate Secret Path Week part of Truth and Reconciliation learning from Oct. 17 to 22, which recognizes the death of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack after fleeing a residential school in 1966.

Conrad Elementary students learn of ‘reconciliACTION’ during Secret Path Week

Secret Path Week from Oct. 17 to 22 commemorates the passing of Chani Wenjack and Gord Downie

‘ReconciliACTIONS’ is a new word to grade five students at Conrad Elementary School. Pupils on Oct. 21 learned of the Chanie Wenjack story during Secret Path Week being held from Oct. 17 to 22 to further their learning on Truth and Reconciliation.

“We in the Indigenous Education Department (IED) will be working with schools to create ‘reconciliACTIONS’ as a means to commit to acting in the spirit of reconciliation,” Lori Burger Truth and Reconciliation Administrator in the Wap Sigatgyet Indigenous Education Department for S.D. 52 said.

Wenjack was a 12-year-old boy who in 1966 fled from an Ontario residential school in an attempt to return to his family more than 600 km away. Wenjack died from exhaustion and exposure alongside the rail lines he was following to return home.

“It is a very sad, sad story. Unfortunately, it is one that does need to be told because we know that over 6000 children did perish while away at residential schools,” Burger said.

Students at Conrad spent the day learning from videos and discussions. The afternoon was a time for ‘reconciliACTION’ giving students an opportunity to express their feelings creatively by painting memory rocks in honour of Wenjack. The rocks will later be placed along Rushbrooke Trail, Burger said.

Secret Path Week was created by the Downie Wenjack Foundation to commemorate the work of Chanie’s family in collaboration with Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip. Upon hearing of Wenjack’s story Downie partnered with the boy’s family to create the Downie Wenjack Foundation which is an Indigenous organization committed to reconciliation and learning opportunities. He recorded an album and co-authored a graphic novel about the young boy’s plight, both called The Secret Path.

“So when Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip learned of the story he was compelled to act and bring this story to life. Gord partnered with (Chanie’s) family, his sister Pearl and created the Downie Wenjack Foundation which is an Indigenous organization committed to reconciliation and learning opportunities, providing material and resources to teachers to tell Chani’s story,” Burger said.

“Essentially what happened was Gord created 10 poems to process Chanie’s story while embarking on his own story of reconciliation. That turned into an album and also a graphic novel called ‘The Secret Path’.”

It is the third year for The Secret Path Week and S.D. 52’s first year in participating. The October dates were specifically chosen by the foundation to commemorate the anniversaries of Downie’s and Wenjacks passing.

By registering with the Downie Wenjack foundation, Conrad Elementary School became a ‘Legacy’ school.

This is where the commitment is made to recognize the week annually. New learning materials and booster packs are supplied annually so the content stays fresh and the legacy continues.

Burger said it is important to note the IED at the district board. The role of Truth and Reconciliation Administrator was created from a grant awarded by Ridley Terminal.

“This enabled a partnership with the board to collectively pursue reconciliation. A lot of the work connected to the roles of the Indigenous Education Department are based on reconciliation,” she said.

“The Indigenous Education Department at SD 52 is reaching out to schools and helping them to acknowledge Secret Path Week and that we hope that this will continue to grow from year to year.”

The IED partners with the classes in working with the content to support classroom teachers providing resources and co-teaching and collaboration. Secret Path Week material is geared toward grades four and five students, but can be adapted for other levels

“We can use these tools to all come together to share this story and continue the dialogue and conversation of the true history of Canada. (With this we can also) look at ways and what we can do individually and collectively to pursue reconciliation where we are,” Burger said.

K-J Millar | Journalist
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