Maple Ridge Secondary’s (MRSS) Aboriginal Leadership team is filled with authentic voices as well as the support of allies moving toward truth together. The story that follows is inspired by this team’s initiative in action on September 30, after collaboration with a strong ally in our building. It is written by an authentic voice and owned by the entire community of MRSS.
A Simple Story
Stories lead us most memorably and forever into shaping the future. I will tell you a simple story.
It may not sound like a simple story when I tell you that the story’s theme revolves around an inspiring moment that symbolizes the hopes and dreams for a large group of Indigenous youth, staff, and parents as they move toward real truth and reconciliation. But the story is simple. Trust me.
It begins with one individual, a man greatly respected in the hallways of This Place as the Keeper of Cleanliness. His name is not needed; he represents all the allies that could be in other buildings and in other places. For this Keeper, after a summer of reflecting on a paper banner that was hung up high, created with handprints of our youth who had symbolized their intention to “see” Indigenous students in our northernmost communities, he presented an idea to one of This Places’ Métis women.
“Make the hands permanent,” he said. “Make the hands orange,” he said. “Make the hands a symbol of the community’s commitment to move forward together on a journey of learning truths and reconciling those together,” he said.
And so it was done.
Now, you can stop here. The story is over. For some of you. But for others, you want to know the dramatic details about the conflicts that arose throughout the journey. If you are this person, this person who needs the nitty-gritty details, I can promise you details. It is important to be informed of the process, isn’t it? We need the answers that create the middle, don’t we? So, I will share those with you as well. But I need you to remember, the story is simple: 1. There was an idea. 2. Action happened.
Before the end, but after the beginning, here are those details of the middle, as promised:
After this great idea was taken to This Places’ Indigenous educators, it was discussed. After much nodding of heads and crinkled eyes seen above masks of the time (this was the time of the Great Pandemic), there was loud rejoicing. All agreed, hundreds of orange handprints would be a brilliant symbol of hope.
Of course, you are thinking the conflict of this story must come next. So, I shall describe in as true a fashion as can be remembered, the process that occurred to have this idea accepted by the people in charge of such acceptances.
One member of this team of women was nervous about the large-scale and permanent potential paper-trail. Before such an event was “ok’d” it had to be put in the hands of the Director of This Place. However, the potential strength of bringing This Places’ entire community together, working towards truth and reconciliation for our Indigenous communities, gave this woman strength. The idea was presented with much reserved excitement.
You may be expecting more rising action to this moment and a lot of potential falling action before the story can continue. There is none. The idea was accepted. The Director simply said, “This is a great idea; it is important. Make it happen.” There was no grand request for flashbacks, further monologue, or detail. So, you can see why I think you might be disappointed in the dramatic details, as there is no drama to report. Acknowledgment of the importance of this moment was immediate; simple.
The next moment was certainly a little more dramatic for some. The Aboriginal Educators put out an invitation for others to take part in an educational and active event. If ever you have organized a large event, you know that a lot of hidden conflict is now stirring. Will anyone reply? Will anyone choose to hear our story? What if only one class responds? If you have ever felt a tension mounting because nothing might happen, this was the rising fear in this moment. But again, this anxiety lasted a very short time.
Very quickly, person after person, group after group, signed up to be a part of this action towards discovering Indigenous truths. If I could report to you what emotion was felt, what gratitude, what thankfulness, what hope, it would take another entire story. So, I shall just tell you, these women were quite simply overwhelmed with the response of This Places’ community.
And then it was Wednesday, September 29. At 9 a.m., the first group of youths and their Leader took their places beside posters of information detailing some of the reverberating effects from residential schools. I shall not share these with you, as these details are for you to discover in other stories. These details cannot be minimized in such a simple story as this – they are the truth of Canadian history and must be learned in pieces or they would overwhelm you. And this story is not for that.
These youths were quiet. They were respectful in their acknowledgement of the need for such a day. The next moments, when each individual put their own handprint, in orange, on the wall, they committed to learn more, committed to move forward towards reconciliation with positive intentions; it was impactful. Moment after glorious moment, for as many moments as there are in a day, commitments continued to be made. Each handprint elevated pride in Our People within the building; each print felt like possibilities that the traumatic history of our past could lead to a better future for our children.
And that is the full story.
To be honest, it is really the next chapter of this story that will be critical. It is truly the next, next chapter that will lead to even harder work (but this story’s Place will be prepared to take action and solve that as they continue to strengthen as a community). And in the next, next, next chapters, it is our hope, as Indigenous people raising Indigenous children, that this simple story inspires each individual to be an educated, compassionate, and active ally as they move forward. The action of this story will permanently reveal and remind us of how one community, during the moment of one day, committed to learning more about the tragic truths behind Canada’s legacy of residential schools; this action will lead to future moments of thinking about how to personally reconcile those as this community moves forward, together. Really.
The beauty of this story is that it holds hopes. It is a story that holds up potential dreams where the past can be reconciled alongside supportive allies. It is a story of healing with the knowledge, respect and love around which Indigenous ways revolve. And it is beautiful because in its simplicity lies the heartbeat of a strong community.