WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Students at l'École Saint-Augustin finished off their school year Friday learning how to participate in a smudging ceremony, as well as taking part in blessing their newly constructed teepee, as part of ongoing reconciliation and relationship-building between the Mi'kmaq and Acadians.
The school, which has students from kindergarten to Grade 6, has been working with Lennox Island First Nation since November to teach Mi'kmaw culture and way of life.
"We want them to appreciate the Mi'kmaw culture. We want them to learn, to be exposed to our way of life, just really to create that sense of connection," said Jamie Thomas, director of culture and tourism for Lennox Island First Nation.
"We know we have the Mik'maq-Acadian connection and we just want to build on that."
The students also had fun learning to use hand drums and making and cooking bannock over an open fire.
"We just want them to have an understanding of the first people of our land," Thomas said.
'Not just the bad history'
The school said students have learned a lot by participating in events about Mi'kmaw culture throughout the year, including about the unmarked graves at former residential schools in Canada.
"That's very tragic, but we want to learn more not just the bad history, but about the art, the music, the culture, what they like to do," said Julie Gagnon, the school's vice principal.
The hope is that the students will spread their newfound knowledge and appreciation for P.E.I.'s Indigenous culture to their friends and families.
"It's just the beginning of our story," said Gagnon. "It's just the tip of the iceberg, because there's so much to learn."
She said the school is also excited to teach the people of Lennox Island more about Acadian history and culture, because the two cultures do have a shared history on P.E.I.
"It's kind of two minorities getting together as a whole," Gagnon said.
The Conseil acadien de Rustico, a non-profit organization formed in 1994 by Acadians and francophones in the area to strengthen that community's culture, came up with the educational project for the students.
"It's opening up their world, which I think is really important especially in this time with what we're discovering across the country with the unmarked graves," said Andrea Deveau, the organization's director.
"They probably have a lot of questions, and I think having these experience will help them understand that and how to process that information," she said.
The teepee at the school created by students is nearly done — school staff are just waiting on some canvas to finish the project.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
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