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Indigenous Student Leaders Come Together to Start the Year Off Strong

A circle of students listens to a speaker

Three years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada outlined 94 calls to action meant to begin repairing the harm caused by the residential school system. Call number 63 forms the foundation for Grand Erie’s Indigenous Student Leadership Planning Day, which focuses on building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

On September 19, Indigenous student leaders from seven Grand Erie schools came together for the second year in a row to set goals and share ideas for the upcoming year. Secondary students from Cayuga, McKinnon Park, Hagersville, Pauline Johnson, Tollgate, North Park and Delhi, arrived with promising ideas and left with exciting plans for the year ahead.

The Indigenous Student Leadership Initiative includes leaders from each school’s Indigenous Club. Throughout 2018-19, these students will meet regularly, plan programming and events, share information, and carry out the intention of the calls to action with their fellow students. Grand Erie’s Indigenous Education team, which planned the day, will be there to support the students throughout the year, together with assistance from their teacher-advisors.

“This is an exciting second year for us,” said Grand Erie Trustee Karen Sandy who represents Indigenous students at the Board. She welcomed students to the day-long leadership event. “I know you’re going to do really great things and I’m very proud of all of the young leaders we have here today.”

Indigenous students spent the day discussing the successes of last year’s initiatives, and focused on what else could be done to improve awareness of Truth and Reconciliation in their schools. Last year’s goal of electing Grand Erie’s first-ever Indigenous Student Trustee came to fruition this past spring with the confirmation of Allan St. Pierre, a Grade 12 student from Tollgate Technological Skills Centre, being selected to the Board for the 2018-19 school year.

“I encourage you to come and talk to me about any of your questions or concerns,” said St. Pierre to the group. “If I don’t know something is happening, I can’t help. I want to bring your voice to the Board.”

Building on St. Pierre’s election, one of the group’s goals for this year is the formation of the first United Indigenous Student Council with representatives from all Grand Erie secondary schools, and advocating for an Indigenous representative on each school’s Student Council. The group also shared ideas for many Indigenous-focused events including: Orange Shirt Day, Treaties Week, and National Indigenous Peoples Day.

The event featured an inspirational visit from a former Grand Erie student. Hagersville Secondary School graduate Dawn Martin shared her journey with the group along with her words of wisdom: “You all have your own gifts and voice, it’s important to let them be known. If you need help, it’s okay to reach out and ask for support, like I did.”

Martin graduated from Trent University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Indigenous Studies as well as a Master’s of Education from Queens University.

“Value your heritage, nurture your inner fire, and take care of your spirit and emotions,” said Martin.

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan includes Equity as one of six indicators to guide the work of realizing Success for Every Student, and promotes practices that help students, families, and staff feel safe, welcomed, and included.