Students sit for a national anthem in support of Indigenous Peoples

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As Canada’s first Day of Truth and Reconciliation was celebrated, a number of students at Walkerville Collegiate chose to protest the country’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples by remaining seated for the national anthem.

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Students both native and non-native joined the protest at Walkerville and several other schools within the Greater Essex County District School Board.

Adrian Klein, the public board’s support worker for Indigenous students, spoke to a number of classes at Walkerville about their actions.

“They said they don’t like what Canada did to the Indigenous people,” Klein said.

Klein encouraged students to make an informed, candid decision about sitting down for the anthem.

How do you stand and sing the anthem of a country that lied to you?

“It’s a difficult thing to deal with because the expectation is to stand up and be honored,” he said. “I have just shared my perspective. I do not speak for Indigenous Peoples as a collective but I speak for myself. Sometimes as an Indigenous, that could mean sitting down to honor the resilience of my ancestors, to show that I am here and proud to be Indigenous. There are also reasons why I would stand up to honor our veterans. They are held in high regard. It’s a kind of respectful thing and it’s about knowing and trying to be respectful. “

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Klein noted that September Reconciliation Day has sparked many emotions and students with a greater awareness of how Indigenous children have been treated in Canadian residential schools and other injustices are eager to show their support.

What he encouraged was a real alliance and not just “sitting during the anthem in a performing manner. Examine your actions and make sure the intentions are good.”

Klein welcomed genuine support for Indigenous youth.

“I encouraged a proper alliance, to continue learning and to create awareness. Build what they learn in schools now and share that with family and peers and take that more than just sitting in a classroom, ”he said. “I told them you’re changing that you’re the future.”

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Jennifer D’Alimonte, chairman of the board of directors of the Can-Am Indian Friendship Center, wants the federal government to pay attention.

“Our youth is our future,” D’Alimonte said. “When they make a statement, they don’t just make a statement so loud for nothing. They stand by us as strong allies of our indigenous youth and are telling the government to continue the calls to action. “

D’Alimonte noted that there is a growing awareness of “the wound that was created and our non-native allies learned that they were lied to. How do you stand and sing the anthem of a country that lied to you?”

A spokesman for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said they were not aware of any similar anthem protests in their schools.

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Contrary to some reports, a spokesman for the public board said no students were punished or disciplined for sitting during the anthem.

Scott Scantlebury said teachers pulled a number of Protestant students aside to ask about their actions but no discipline was given by the school’s deputy principal or principal.

“Students feel compelled to act,” said Clara Howitt, a public board education inspector. “What we do as a district is help students sort out their new learning to make informed decisions. This is education.”

Howitt noted the “tragic residual impact” of residential schools on Indigenous Peoples.

“We support students to understand a true alliance,” Howitt said. “A true alliance moves beyond the momentary act of not standing up for the national anthem. Again, it is about deep learning, building genuine respect and leading to consistent sustainable action to fulfill the TRC Calls.”

mcaton@postmedia.com

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