It wasn’t just an ordinary day at school for students at Penticton Secondary on Thursday, May 5 — it was an opportunity to take action on truth and reconciliation.
A total of 25 red dresses were displayed outside of the school to mark the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and Two-Spirit People.
A conversation about the importance of the occasion among 18 students enrolled in the Land Learn Program began in the classroom, and then continued with the school’s first-ever outdoor Indigenous-themed story walk.
“They read individual stories in front of each other about people who have lost a loved one, whether it was a daughter, sister, mother, or auntie,” said Patricia Collins, a teacher at Penticton Secondary and leader of the Land Learn Program.
On a somber, rainy morning in Penticton, students were given the opportunity to not only take action on reconciliation but to also share their personal stories that have been hidden for far too long.
“Multiple students brought a red dress from home to symbolize the violence Indigenous women face,” Collins said.
“At the end of the story walk, students were coming up and telling their own experiences related to violence.”
The Land Learn Program launched in February as a way to introduce students to Indigenous history through the studying of multiple subjects, like English, math, science and even physical education.
Nationally, May 5 is recognized as a day to raise awareness about the lives Indigenous women have lost because of violence — it is also known as Red Dress Day.
It’s a day that not many at Penticton Secondary were aware of prior to this week.
“I didn’t know about this day until a few days ago,” said Bella Keith, a student in Grade 11. “Sadness comes from me because this isn’t being spread around as much as it should be but I think the conversations that we’re having about what’s happened in the past and what still happens to this day is very important.”
Raising awareness about those who have lost their lives due to violence was a priority throughout the day, with the set up of an information booth headlining the cause. Local teachers Eva Koch, Lisa Stephens, Chris Ward and Russ Reid set up the booth inside the school, making sure the message of truth and reconciliation resonated with more than just those in the Land Learn Program.
“I think a lot more students need to understand what’s going on in the world,” Faythe Berglund said, a Grade 12 student. “For us to see what these women and their families have gone through…we got to a certain point where I did end up crying.”
Thursday marked the first time Penticton Secondary recognized the occasion. Koch, a social studies teacher, said that the school has plans to expand the event over the next five years, with the additions of art exhibits and walking stations among the top ideas.
An RCMP-led study in 2013 revealed that at that point in time there were 225 unsolved cases of missing or murdered Indigenous females.
“So many people have gone missing and we don’t talk about them, or even think about them,” said Kaslo Stevenson, a Grade 11 student.
“It’s a serious problem. Today gave me an opportunity to reflect on the tragedy, and it’s appropriate that we think about it.”