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Day of Prayer for Reconciliation first step in long-term plan for Saskatoon Catholic Schools

Education, Faith and Spirituality

Students, teachers, parents, and clergy gathered together in Saskatoon to reflect on what reconciliation really means for the Day of Prayer for Reconciliation this past October.

The day was the first step in a long-term plan for Saskatoon Catholic Schools to incorporate Indigenous history, Treaties, and the future of reconciliation into their classrooms.

Superintendent of learning services Gordon Martell said, as First Nations man and educator, the day was powerful.

“It was, for me, really heartening and it really demonstrated the different era,” Martell said. “We are past just blaming and pointing fingers and we are saying okay our history is what it is, but now we are going to move forward together and that’s what really resonated for me that day.”

It also symbolized the Saskatoon Catholic School Board’s plan to take real and meaningful action to the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Martell said, as part of the church, they had to recognize their role in the past relationship with Indigenous Peoples and “to determine how that role is going to be shaped today.”

“Going forward and doing our part to make sure that reconciliation and healing is part of all our actions, not just our intentions,” he said. 

The school board is creating a strategy, which will be released soon, which will create a framework for students and families to become active in learning about the Residential School era, supporting survivors, and understanding their own role in the solution.

“The day of prayer really marked a turning point, I think, where we need to be more active in reconciliation and healing, we can’t be passive about that,” Martell said.

“We have to recognize that we have a role and the students who are in our schools today are going to sustain that for generations to come. It’s not enough to teach them about the history. (We need to) teach them their role in a viable future with Indigenous Peoples where we don't repeat the mistakes of the past and we are able to grow together in relationship, positive relationships.”

Working with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the day of prayer will become an annual event that will compliment other action-oriented steps. It’s an important strategy for the future of the city since about 40 per cent of the students in Saskatoon go through the catholic system.

“To have that many students pausing and considering standing in solidarity with the people who have survived residential schools, and are affected by that era, that’s a pretty strong statement too,” Martell said.

“We want to ensure that First Nations and all Indigenous people know that we are supportive and we support their pursuit for justice and equity in Canada.”

Martell said he believes, with a larger Indigenous population per capita, many Saskatchewan schools are moving ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to talking about and taking action around reconciliation. For other regions and school boards that want to follow suite, he said it’s about sitting down and really talking about what reconciliation means and what actions can be taken.

One important action is bringing Indigenous languages, Treaty education, and Residential School era history into the classrooms.

“How do we help our young children in our schools understand that reconciliation and healing is about how you understand the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada? How you chose to speak about Indigenous Peoples, how you choose to be in relationship with them, you know, how you respect diversity in our schools and our community, and all the things that we can actually, concretely do,” Martell said of the conversations around applying reconciliation in the classroom.

“It doesn’t have to be a negative story from our shared past, but can really be about how we are going to walk forward in better relationships than we were when our interactions were characterized by racism, hegemony and those kinds of things. We can really move forward much more in community.”

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