Orange Shirt Day has taken on a whole new meaning for Carbon School after a new Aboriginal cultural appreciation centre was created.
The eight-foot-high tipi can be found in the institution’s library, acting as a space that honours and recognizes Aboriginal culture.
Not only does this serve as an educational learning space, but it is also used as a space for quiet and reflection for students who need a safe space during the school day.
Sept. 30 is a day where students and faculty are asked to wear orange shirts in remembrance of those who have suffered in residential schools.
Currently, Carbon School has 71 students, eight of whom identify as FNMI (First Nations, Metis, or Inuit) as well as one staff member.
“Our school prides itself on our community connections and small town values,” said Jody Stockwood, Grade 5/6 Teacher and main organizer of the project.
“We believe in supporting and recognizing all of our students. We believe that it is important to respect, honour and educate our community on the history and lifestyle of this group of people.”
The Drumheller Penitentiary has a program where inmates created the canvas that is being used as the tipi covering as well as its structure.
“By supporting an initiative such as this we would be fostering the idea that every member of society can be a contributing member, no matter their past,” said Stockwood.
“It would also allow students to recognize that every person has a talent and that by reaching out to each other we can create a climate of trust and reconciliation.”
The school’s librarian is Metis and was able to bring Elder Ken Cardinal of High Prairie to conduct a smudging ceremony.
In attendance alongside the elder was Elder Cardinal’s son Justin who is an Aboriginal Liaison Officer as well as Drumheller’s Aboriginal Community Development Officer Dee Chambers.
As a residential school survivor himself, Elder Cardinal shared stories and the significance of the tipi and its corresponding artwork on the canvas.
The artwork was a collective effort, with ideas brainstormed by students about what symbols represent the community, and then being transformed into artwork by the inmate program.
“It’s really interesting because we are always concerned with someone who is going to act up. We have to wear our teacher hat right? And at one point Elder Cardinal sang a song in Cree and you worry because it’s a different language [but] the kids were spellbound,” said Carbon School Principal Marci Steen Steen.
“They were quiet, they were reflective and we saw kids that were kind of looking down during it and when he was done they looked back up.”
“I was very impressed by not only the respect that was shown but I think they got it. I think they felt something there,” said Steen.
At the end of the day, a native family connected to the school gave students the experience of eating deep fried bannock, a traditional bread.