Following Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Canada in July, we wanted to learn about the real-life work of those in Catholic Schools who are implementing this ongoing national movement of Truth and Reconciliation.
Earlier this Fall, we had the privilege of connecting with Cynthia Launière, supervisor of CCSD’s Indigenous Education team, to learn more about the initiatives supporting Indigenous Education and ongoing Truth and Reconciliation within the Calgary Catholic School District. We are deeply thankful to Cynthia for giving us a window into the incredible work of her and her Indigenous Education Team at CCSD.
Below is our conversation with Cynthia where she shares about the work of her team and the impact it’s making on the Calgary Catholic School District. Our hope is that looking into the incredible work at CCSD will be an encouragement to all involved in Catholic Education and an inspiration for continuing to work together to bring about positive change through education.
1. Can you tell us a little more about your position as Supervisor in the Indigenous Portfolio?
I’m the Supervisor of Indigenous Education for all 117 schools within CCSD. My portfolio is unique as my team serves all the Indigenous students and families, as well as all teachers and non-Indigenous students in learning about the Indigenous cultures, traditions, and ways within Treaty 7. My team supports the Teaching and Learning within curriculum and provides Professional Growth opportunities for CCSD teachers and staff which directly impact the non-Indigenous and Indigenous students’ learning.
The learning team consists of 1 teacher consultant and 2 district teachers that support the integration of the Indigenous knowledge within the classrooms. They’re in schools daily supporting teachers. We also have 3 Indigenous Cultural Liaisons to support Indigenous cultures and student success with academics and graduation.
The other side of my team is the Diverse Learning (DL) which provides support for all Indigenous students. The DL side of my team includes 1 Elder, 1 teacher consultant, and 2 Indigenous Wellness workers to support teachers and the Indigenous students with academic success, support learning needs, support with cultural ways, and provide mental health support (due to the intergenerational trauma).
My entire team of 10 are all Indigenous from diverse areas in Canada, therefore they bring a rich cultural piece and an understanding of the Indigenous people’s past and current realities.
The team has been very impactful in working alongside all CCSD employees to work towards Reconciliation.
2. How has this position helped serve the ongoing mission of Truth and Reconciliation within the Calgary Catholic School District?
My role as Supervisor and my Indigenous team are charged with preparing the teachers, staff and students for the Truth and for developing ways of working towards Reconciliation.
We have been tasked with developing ongoing professional growth sessions, videos, activities, training, community work, and relationship building with the Indigenous communities in Treaty 7 that we serve.
We have challenged the unconscious bias of many and shown them that we will get through this together, as many felt guilty that they were unaware of Residential schools growing up.
Our role is also to work together on this journey of walking alongside both the staff to grow and the Indigenous students to regain what they lost through the legacy of residential schools and their affects. We are making space for their cultures, ceremonies, traditions, stories, knowledge and languages. We inherited the mess of the legacy of residential schools; however, we can do better and repair those relationships. We can bridge the learning gap by providing equity and supports for Indigenous students by working together on the 94 calls to action.
We are often reminding staff of the words, “Education got us into this mess and Education will get us out”, spoken by Honorable Murray Sinclair. This is our chance to make the biggest impact and change for the future of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
3. What were some of your main takeaways from Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in July? Is there one specific address which stood out to you or that you’d recommend we read?
This (below) is the Indigenous Education teams’ most favorable apology.
This quote (below) was my main takeaway.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.” Pope Francis
His apology came from the heart and was authentic and deeply felt. The use of the word “beg” made me feel he is taking on the sins of all those before him, kneeling before God and admitting that the evil which took place towards the Indigenous people was not acceptable. He is taking it on as the leader. To be present in Canada, on the land where this took place, as the head of the Church, was key.
4. How have you been helping staff and students stay on the Truth & Reconciliation Journey this year?
My department simply encourages staff and students to stay on the TRC journey and to pick one action and work on it daily.
We have guided them on these 3 focal points below:
1st– Private acts, you are encouraged to start with reading, viewing, listening (to work on it personally and professionally).
2nd– Public acts, you are encouraged to attend at Indigenous events such as Pow-wow. Walk alongside, listen, and learn (to work on it personally, and with their classrooms).
3rd– Work alongside, You are encouraged to work alongside Indigenous people, on projects designed by and/or led by Indigenous people. Continue learning and building relationships. Perhaps inviting Elders and knowledge keepers (to work on it personally, and with their classrooms).
5. How have the students responded to National Truth and Reconciliation week?
We planned an entire month of activities for all schools to partake in within their classrooms and personal lives.
Each school sent a lead teacher to learn from our department and the goal was that each teacher would walk away feeling confident and engaged. Each teacher received a list of relevant resources, books and links to share with their schools and many schools signed up for the NTRC website to receive daily live presentations.
The goal, all year long, is that they are working on Reconciliation monthly. This is ongoing and not a one-day event. Some have created healing gardens to plant medicines and others opened a smudge room to allow space for Indigenous ways of knowing and for Indigenous students to feel free to practice their way of praying.
On September 30th, National Truth and Reconciliation Day, my Indigenous Education team at CCSD collaborated with the Calgary Board of Education and the YYC team to deliver a presentation for all Calgarians at the Fort Calgary stage. We had the district Elder, Wanda First Rider, speak as a Residential school survivor. We also organized many of the CCSD Indigenous students to join us in their regalia to dance to honor the survivor’s courage.
6. What are your thoughts on the potential role of Canadian Catholic Schools in ongoing formation and cultivation of Truth and Reconciliation?
Catholic schools in Canada play an important role and are key in creating opportunities for our staff, parents and students to grow daily in Truth and Reconciliation.
We are cultivating a place where we are naturally working alongside the Indigenous people in an equitable manner. We have the opportunity to continue learning from the Indigenous people and to decolonize some of our ways of learning which will also allow us to move forward together.
The District Elder, Wanda First Rider, often says “it is time to move forward together. It is time the non-Indigenous people become allies and support and love the Indigenous people of Canada”.
Firstly, we are in education, where we can make the most impactful positive change for the future.
Secondly, because the Catholic Church had a major involvement in the Residential schools, it is key we take a large role in repairing the relationships with Indigenous people, and give space to their cultures, languages, way of life, and ceremonial renewal in all Calgary Catholic schools.
Thirdly, Catholic schools could play a large part in creating and developing training/formation courses for the Church/priests with Truth and Reconciliation, as they are also part of cultivating a positive and true authentic reconciliation to move forward.
Truth and Reconciliation is the role of all Canadians and the Church/priests. It is not only the role of educators and students.
We are all in this together, imagine the power of all of us working towards one goal.
We are deeply grateful to Cynthia for giving us insight into the ways that CCSD is working hard to create sustainable, impactful change in our Catholic schools. We know that education is key in cultivating awareness of the past and moving forward into the future better equipped to welcome diversity within our schools and make meaningful space for Indigenous culture and traditions.
We know that schools across the country are working towards this common goal of a better future and we pray that this work continues to cultivate the necessary reflection and action needed to make an impactful change for the future.
Let us continue to work together as a unified Canadian Catholic School System to cultivate truth and foster reconciliation as we remain faithful to this most important mission.
CCSTA would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Cynthia and her Indigenous Education team at Calgary Catholic School District for sharing their admirable work with us and providing much inspiration for all of us involved in Catholic Education.
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