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Bentwood Boxes at local schools contain prayers and intentions for reconciliation

The boxes are in place in Catholic schools across Simcoe County, and students are encouraged to leave prayers and intentions for reconciliation in the boxes

With Sept. 30 marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, many sectors are taking a look inward and are reflecting on how they can make things better for Indigenous people who access their services.

That includes local school boards.

“Developing programs in support of Indigenous students is an ongoing and consultative process at our board. For us, it is important to identify the needs of our students and establish strategies that are rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing,” Frances Bagley, director of education with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, told Village Media this week.

“We have focused on building capacity across our board by hiring Indigenous education itinerant teachers, trauma-informed counsellors and by establishing champion teachers at our schools,” she said.

This year, the board has seen many initiatives at and through their schools that aim to bring Indigenous learning into classrooms and support Indigenous students.

For example, at St. Theresa’s Catholic High School in Midland, students in the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) are working with master canoe builder Chuck Commanda on building a birch bark canoe.

Students at Our Lady of the Bay Catholic School in Collingwood sold stickers this month to raise funds for Water First, a national charity that helps Indigenous communities resolve water problems.

In Orillia, a Rama First Nation student at Patrick Fogerty Catholic Secondary School designed a logo for masks and stickers which raised more than $5,000 for the Rama Pathways of Commemorative Space initiative.

Also this year, all 50 elementary and secondary schools within the board have been provided miniature, custom Bentwood Boxes, which were inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Bentwood Box. Students placed prayers and intentions for reconciliation in the boxes.

“These boxes will be used to engage our school communities in truth, healing, hope and reconciliation,” said Bagley.

Every year, more Indigenous perspectives are also integrated into the curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 12, according to Bagley.

“We know that the inclusion and integration into teaching and learning strategies goes a long way in helping to foster engagement for all of our students,” she said.