As Assistant Head of School, I oversee three major strategic initiatives that are connected to three major global influencers. They include:
- The Environment
- Truth and Reconciliation
For anyone who has done work in any of these areas, you know that they are interconnected issues that cannot be separated from each other. Quite simply, respecting diversity (Pluralism) requires including Indigenous perspectives and knowledge (Truth and Reconciliation), which are deeply connected to the land and water (Environment). You see? These things cannot be separated. That said, I am now going to separate them and speak specifically to Truth and Reconciliation, and what we’ve been doing as a school to walk down that path.
When we started our strategic efforts towards Truth and Reconciliation, I remember the early discussions being centred on questions like, “To what extent can schools like ours be responsible for advancing reconciliation? How can we make things better? and, where do we even start?” Ultimately it was agreed that as a school, a place of learning, our goal should be to start there. After all, Reconciliation will be impossible if people still don’t learn the Truth behind Canada’s colonial past. So, to pursue Truth, our community has focused on learning. The learning has been different for various groups, so let me explain a little more:
For our students, the curriculum offers many opportunities to connect with Indigenous knowledge and understanding. All of our teachers have spent time connecting their practices to the First Peoples Principles of Learning. Whether working on a Land-Based Learning project in a Grade 6 homeroom class, or discussing Indigenous history/literature at the Harkness table in one of our newly offered BC First Peoples or English First Peoples courses in the Senior School, our students have many opportunities to learn Truth in the curriculum.
All our Senior School students, and even students as young as Grade 6, have spent time learning how to write personalized land acknowledgements and they have since been reading them aloud at school events, including: school assemblies, music concerts, drama performances, and even beach cleanups on the shores of Semiahmoo Bay.
For our staff, learning has taken many shapes. From one-hour Reconciliation webinars, to full days of professional development, our staff are keen and interested. Just recently, a few of us had the privilege of completing a course titled, Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education (UBC EdX). I walked away with a new level of understanding of the trauma that Indigenous people have experienced for centuries and continued to develop my appreciation for the resilience of Indigenous arts, language, and culture.
As a full staff, we committed a Professional Development Day working with Mr. Perry Smith (Kꙻ anilqꙻ a?) who is the Assistant Superintendent in the Abbotsford School District, and member of the Bonaparte First Nation. In collaboration with two of our very own teachers, Ms. Joyce Kim and Ms. Brittney Townrow (now at West Point Grey Academy), we spent the day learning with Perry, connecting with the land, and understanding why such a connection is so important. All staff then went through the process of writing personalized land acknowledgements that have since been shared at school events, just like our students.
Perry has also done work with our Board of Governors, leading discussions around what capacity and what responsibility schools like ours have, to advancing Truth and Reconciliation. This winter, both the Board and our Senior Management Team completed a course offered by the Indigenous Relations Academy. The course was based on Bob Joseph’s book, 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act. This learning opportunity did a wonderful job of helping us better understand the complexities of this legal document, and we learned about its cruel and enduring legacy as part of our journey to better understand the Truth.
Really, while much of our efforts to this point have been focused on learning and the Truth, we have also taken some actionable steps towards Reconciliation. I have learned that Reconciliation is rooted in action and cannot be a passive effort. In terms of actions we have taken a few good steps already:
- We actively participate in and promote Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation events.
- We have collectively and publicly mourned and recognized the loss of students at Indian Residential Schools.
- We have made donations to Indigenous organizations including Nations Skate Youth and the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society
- We have committed to advancing Truth and Reconciliation as a strategic endeavour, supported by our Board of Governors.
- We continue to host meetings with other South Surrey and White Rock educators, and in partnership with the Semiahmoo First Nation, are working to develop teaching resources that will specifically teach about the Semiahmoo First Nation history, and Indigenous history in our local area south of the Fraser River.
Perhaps most notably as an act of Reconciliation, Southridge has begun to make meaningful connections with Indigenous groups and partners. A personal highlight for me was hosting an incredible full school assembly in February, at which our staff and students were treated to a rich cultural presentation that included Indigenous drumming, singing, and dancing. We watched, listened, and learned so much as a community that morning.
The path to Reconciliation will be a long one, but Southridge is committed! As we continue to learn and take action in the pursuit of Truth and Reconciliation, I will look forward to sharing more of our progress with you.
Contributed by Darren Jones, Assistant Head of School
Excerpt originally published in Spirit Magazine - Spring 2023