Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Students here paused at 2:15 p.m. this afternoon to mark the 215 Indigenous children whose graves were found in Kamloops this spring.

Many wore orange as part of ‘Orange Shirt Day’ on the first Truth and Reconciliation day — a new national federal holiday.

The learning experience was part of a day of commemoration and recognition that began during morning announcements.

Due to COVID gathering rules there are no assemblies allowed, which other years would have allowed for more speakers and formal presentations.

Principal Trent Willett opened with remarks to classrooms about the significance and importance of the day.

And they played a Mohawk version of O Canada, provided by the Wahta First Nation west of Bala.

He added that there are still a number of students who commute by bus to the school from Wahta, as they have for decades and longer. But he couldn’t say how many for privacy reasons.

Sophie Pratt, left, Michael Bennett, Matthew Montross and Brody Nelson were among many students who arrived at GHS this morning wearing orange. Bennett admitted his was a hunting shirt.

Willett said GHS has an Indigenous studies course taught by teacher Gerald Willmott, a First Nations member.

This week students from his class are starting each school day during announcements by explaining some of the 94 Indigenous ‘Calls to action,’ recommendations from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation commission.

Grade 12 students Scarlett Zerback and Tyler Gidwani were among the first few days’ presenters.

She told classmates listening throughout the school that more information and education is needed to bring the traumatic history of residential schools to mind — especially in coverage beyond social media where she said most young people learn their news now.

This morning she wore an orange ribbon to mark the day.

Gidwani said he used his time to talk about the Catholic church, this week’s apology by Canadian bishops — and a call for the Pope to come to Canada to say it in person. He also talked about the difficulty some bands are having retrieving records of the deaths.

Chloe MacDonald, 15, said: “I think only one day a year is not enough.” The Grade 11 student added the government is “not doing enough.”

Chloe MacDonald, 15, was one of several who wore orange — a sports jacket in her case.

“I think one day a year is not enough. I think they’re not doing enough and could do more,” she said on the way in to classes this morning.

She thinks governments could do a better job of not only promoting the day, but helping First Nations.

While she’s not in the Indigenous class, she wanted to. She signed up but didn’t get the option this quadmester.

She knows a little more about Indigenous issues than some of her schoolmates. Her dad’s side of the family has native roots down from near Washago, not far from Rama First Nation.

But MacDonald says students and her friends only talk “a little” about the what’s going on once they leave school.

However, she has an older friend who is native and she talks to her a bit about the issues.

Not a lot, she admits, because she says her friend doesn’t push it on people that much.

Grade 11 student Haden German, left, had on an orange shirt, while Eamon Dawson, Grade 9, and Scarlett Zerback, Grade 12, wore orange ribbons to mark the first Truth and Reconciliation day.

Zerback, who just moved to Gravenhurst from Barrie, is happy to be in Indigenous studies for the first time. A class that runs each day from 12:30 to 3:10 p.m. for the first 45 days of the two-a-day class schedule this fall.

“We’ve learned a lot about the 94 ‘Calls to action.”

The students agree the government could have done “a lot more,” from what they’ve read and learned.

“It should not have happened.” said Matthew Montross, who says he’s heard a lot more about Canada’s First Nations and the residential schools this year because his parents are teachers.

Sophie Pratt says she thought she’d have learn more in history class.

Only one of the dozen students spoke to had many friends who are native.

Pratt said her office manager at Muskoka Shores, where she works part-time after school, is Indigenous.

Gravenhurst High School principal Trent Willett, left, and teacher Lorey Sargent, along with office staff Allie Dennis, Susan McAughey and Jodi Edwards, wore ‘Every Child Matters’ t-shirts today to mark the school’s annual ‘Orange Shirt Day’ and the new Truth and Reconciliation day Thursday.


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