BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Two students from École Lacombe Junior High School are still glowing at their recent recognition as two of the 10 award winners for the provincial level of the national ‘Imagine A Canada’ contest.
‘Imagine A Canada’ is a contest hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) – a way to engage young people to share their thoughts on what the future of Canada could look like through the lens of reconciliation.
Ten recipients are chosen from each province and territory, and those award winners will go on to a national selection committee where one grand winner is chosen from each province or territory.
For ELJHS students Brooklyn Thompson and Megan Lofstrand, both in Grade nine, the contest took on extra meaning as they were each named as part of the top 10 student submissions in Alberta. Their humanities teacher, Suzanne Williamson, was proud to note that 14 of her other students were also given honourable mentions for their efforts.
“The focus now for Alberta is really trying to get the kids to understand our history and not just the positive parts of it, either. The teaching quality standards are now changing and we have to include Indigenous culture and teachings into our curriculums. This was a perfect area for that,” Williamson said.
She said she was drawn to the project because it allowed students to explore the theme of reconciliation in a creative way.
Students were able to submit an essay, poetry, drawings, paintings, sculptures or even video projects. This allowed each student to truly take time to create something meaningful that was also a reflection of their own unique talents.
For example, Lofstrand literally drew inspiration from an art class, where they were learning about Celtic knots.
“The knot represents two cultures coming together and I thought that would be a really good way to represent Indigenous and non-Indigenous people coming together to make a better country,” Lofstrand said.
“I think it’s important that people accept other’s differences. We know it’s not going to be sunshine and rainbows – there will always be problems, but people can make it better by not discriminating against people for what they believe or who they are.”
Lofstrand’s knot incorporated beautiful contrasting colours that blend together as the lines flow through each other. Her use of traditional colours and a unique cultural representation was a powerful image of various groups coming together.
As the students were working through the curriculum, they focused recently on a unit of collective rights.
Williamson introduced the students to the complications that arise from various cultures working together, while each is trying to preserve their heritage while developing a greater cultural identity.
She said finding this contest was a great way to engage the students in creative thinking and for them to individually begin to understand what reconciliation truly means to them. “We go through and one of the things we have to do with the kids is to find out exactly how they believe people can take actions towards actually being kinder and more accepting. I wanted them to think about what that really looks like,” Williamson said.
This is what inspired Thompson’s poem, titled Years From Now.
Thompson decided to focus on the process it will take for reconciliation, rather than a simple answer or a nation-wide to-do-list.
“I separated the poem paragraphs into segments of two years, five years and 10 years. I wanted to show the process that will have to be taken to reach reconciliation. I thought that was the best way to represent how I feel the future has to look,” Thompson said.
“Some people think they just have to do a couple of things, give an apology and instantly things are reconciled and we’re forgiven. This poem shows that there is a process that has to be taken. With everything that’s been done, it will take a lot of work and steps to get through this process.”
When Thompson said, “With everything that’s been done,” she was referring to the horrific treatment of Indigenous people through cultural assimilation and the tragedies of residential schools.
For those who may be unfamiliar, the residential school system was where Aboriginal people were removed from their families, not allowed to access cultural practices, speak their languages or participate in cultural celebrations.
They were forced to adhere to a religion they did not understand or believe, and were punished if they did not comply, or if they spoke their own language or celebrated their culture in any way. Residential school survivors are called this because they had to live through unimaginable conditions including physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
With all of this, it has impacted generations of Indigenous people, causing many of the social problems people currently endure. As Thompson and Lofstrand began to understand and explore these issues, they both wanted to reflect on how people could begin to move forward in a positive manner.
“I think the first step towards reconciliation is everyone learning about our history. For example, my mom came with me to the Imagine A Canada award event, and she had no idea about residential schools. And there are a lot of people like her. Now, she knows about them and I think that is a step towards reconciliation. It’s about making sure people know what happened,” Thompson said.
Currently, the girls are still basking in their recognition, and are enjoying the ability to open conversations around why reconciliation needs to occur.
In the coming weeks, they will await word to see if either of their projects have been chosen as the top submission from Alberta.
The students who were given honourable mentions in the contest are Kayla Majerech, Terence Plamondon, Shelby Frank, Elena Braun, Carter Verhoeven, Ser Nay Htoo, Chelsea Smeltzer, Bryanna Villeneuve, Carmen Maris, Chase McCrea, Carly Cherniak, Sydney Zens, Mia Belbeck and Brooklyn Dunn.