After several businesses in the Columbia Valley adopted a signage project from the Grade 6 and 7 class that was completed in support of The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) during Secret Path Week last fall, the success story reached the desks of educators and activists within the organization.
The DWF recently distributed information about the opportunity to become an early adopter of the Legacy School Program in the East Kootenay to J.A. Laird teacher Kim Daniele after her class distributed welcome signs in English, Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and French throughout the community last fall.
“We currently have 433 schools throughout B.C., with several in East Kootenay including J.A. Laird Elementary School,” said Lisa Prinn, The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund Legacy Schools program manager, educator, and activist. “I just sent a letter to Kimberly Daniele at the school to let her know about the program.”
While Daniele’s class participated in the initiative this year, J.A. Laird is not formally recognized by the DWF as a Legacy School Program — a detail that may change in the coming weeks thanks to their involvement.
Secret Path Week is a nationally recognized event held between Oct. 17 and 22 annually that recognizes the plight of Chanie Wenjack — a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who perished from starvation and exposure in an effort to leave residential school on foot during the winter of 1966 — founded by the DWF was just nine years old when he was sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, ON, in 1963.
Today, the fund has a call to action for all nations in Canada to #DoSomething with #reconciliACTION to move forward in a meaningful way. The community presence has been growing on a national scale since 2016 when Tragically Hip’s lead singer Gord Downie asked Canadians to explore their relationships with Indigenous people and settlers.
After Downie passed away from Cancer in 2017, the Assembly of First Nation (AFN) Chief Perry Bellegarde, along with many Indigenous communities around the country, remembered him as an advocate for reconciliation and Indigenous rights.
Daniele credits the Aboriginal Education Support Worker from J.A. Laird Elementary School for the vision of the school project.
“I have high hopes to incorporate more about residential schools and teach the whole story of Chanie Wenjack,” said Daniele, noting that an upcoming maternity leave will take her briefly out of the classroom in the next school year. “But again, I can’t take credit for this idea.”
Prinn and Daniele have now been in touch to discuss formalizing the DWF content for future iterations of the school project.
When teachers sign-up to become a Legacy School with the DWF, a toolkit with copies of the Secret Path book, a reconciliACTION Guidebook, tote bag and education resources for both virtual and physical classrooms are available to participants in the program.
Educators are encouraged to access free digital resources from Kindergarten to Grade 12 as well as opportunities to engage with Indigenous and non-Indigenous musicians, artists, scientists and writers. The initiative is available to all schools and interested teachers who sign-up to become a Legacy School online.
In addition, there’s a Legacy Schools Artist Ambassador program for high-school students affiliated with the fund. The purpose is to unite Indigenous and non-Indigenous musicians or artists across Canada to inspire student leadership and bring forward the journey of reconciliation in learning environments to promote healing.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the live sessions have migrated to the digital world in hopes of continuous development of education and awareness about the impact of residential schools.
“DWF LIVE connects viewers to Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to build awareness, education and connection,” said Prinn. “These sessions inspire us all to answer Gord Downie’s call to ‘Do Something’ even during times of isolation to make Canada a better place for Indigenous peoples.”
The hashtag #DoSomething is from Downie’s call to action during the final Tragically Hip concert. #reconciliACTION was created by the organization to honour small gestures to build meaningful relationships during the reconciliation process.
“The Legacy Schools program has only been around since 2018,” said Prinn. “It’s grown very organically with both families very much involved.”
To learn more about how to become a Legacy School, please visit: www.LegacySchools.ca and the www.ArtistAmbassador.ca sites to sign-up for the cause.
Breanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer