July 10th, 2019
The sun was shining bright as students from Eastwood Collegiate Institute transformed the Kitchener Market into a learning space for all on Friday, June 21 to help mark National Indigenous Peoples Day. Students and members of the public had the chance to take part in a number of educational opportunities, learn about Indigenous dance and browse a variety of booths featuring the work of Indigenous vendors.
Greg Toller teaches the global Indigenous issues class at ECI, and spearheaded the effort to create this event in partnership with the City of Kitchener. Toller explained the idea began in 2018, with a delegation of his students presenting their idea to the City of Kitchener’s Youth Forum. The idea was embraced wholeheartedly by the city, he added, with them approving the group for funding on the spot, waiving the usual waiting period for consideration.
The workshops that attendees took part in at the NIPD event all began as summative projects by students in Toller’s class, with the more substantial projects becoming core portions of the event. From the faceless dolls, to a storybook about the Métis language, each of the assignments represented the students’ efforts to take up the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. “We wanted to show the public what we’re doing at Eastwood,” said Toller.
While the event was open to members of the public and WRDSB students alike, Toller explained the ECI cohort was especially focused on providing a valuable learning opportunity for the more than 200 elementary students in attendance. “Those elementary school kids are our guests of honour today,” he said. It was clear to see, with students and educators offering up an engaging, varied and informative day for each of the elementary student visitors.
Toller felt the event capped off a whole year of Indigenous learning for the elementary students, as he explained their teachers are doing a great job of incorporating Indigenous content into their learning every day. He pointed out you could see the evidence of this during the Haudenosaunee dance workshop. The students were asked to raise their hand if they had heard of the Haudenosaunee people before. “Every single kid out there put up their hand,” said Toller. “It’s fantastic – that’s it.”
Nate Lachambre, a Grade 10 student at ECI helping to run the event, echoed Toller. “This is the first step to reconciliation,” said Lachambre, adding that this learning has a ripple effect, helping future generations achieve a deeper understanding of Indigenous history.
The faceless dolls project, facilitated by Jasmine Rogan, a fifth-year student at ECI, was one workshop each elementary student had the chance to take part in. The learning for these students actually began days before they arrived at the NIPD event, as Toller explained the classes were sent the materials to create the cardboard cutout the doll would be based on in advance of the event. This offered the opportunity for their teachers to explain to the younger students the meaning behind the dolls and their connection to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. “Here’s what we’re doing and why,” said Toller. “It’s not just arts and crafts, it’s a lot more than that.”
Students were invited to decorate their cutout silhouette of a faceless doll to represent a girl or woman in their lives that they care about, Rogan explained. Importantly, the dolls are faceless because they are designed to speak to not only the artist who creates it but to anyone who may see the large collection of finished dolls on display. “It could be a family member, friend, sister, mother, grandmother,” said Rogan. “This doll will also represent someone else’s loved, female friend or family member.”
This experience has only affirmed Rogan’s decision to attend Laurier Brantford in the fall for Indigenous Studies. Her experience working with younger students to help them learn more about Indigenous history is helping to propel her forward on to the next step of her learning journey. “I really enjoy these opportunities to teach kids,” said Rogan. “I really want to help Canada on it’s path to reconciliation.”
Sydney Walker, a Grade 11 student from ECI, was helping to run the weaving workshop, and was struck by the eagerness of the younger students. “They do want to get involved, they do want to learn more,” she said, adding it was clear to see their enthusiasm during the Indigenous dancing demonstration.
Walker credits much of the success of the event to Toller’s enthusiasm and passion for the material. When she heard the NIPD event was taking place and that Toller was running it, she knew she had to get involved. “Greg is just awesome,” said Walker. “He’s one of the most open-minded people I have ever met.”
Alana Mulder, a student teacher working in Toller’s class, was similarly impressed with his passion for the subject matter. Although initially focused on learning to teach English and Math, Toller helped to open her eyes to the possibility of teaching Indigenous Studies. “It was phenomenal,” said Mulder. “It was an incredible experience.”
Toller is humble reflecting on the success of the day, and credits much of it to the hard work of his students who helped make it happen. “This project would not have happened without student involvement,” said Toller. “It warms my heart.” As the elementary students ended the day with a loud “thank you” to all the organizers, he reflected on what the success of the event says about Waterloo Region. “We’re seeing that spirit of community in with what’s going on here today,” said Toller. “It’s a real beautiful thing.”