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UCC pays tribute to Canada’s indigenous people

Sam McKinney and Cat Criger

Principal Sam McKinney and Cat Criger.

Upper Canada College acknowledged the history of the land it sits on, welcomed a First Nations elder and had a student talk about his indigenous heritage and issues affecting Canada’s Aboriginal population on Jan. 23.

Traditional teacher, mentor and healer Cat Criger spoke at both the Prep and Upper School assemblies. He works within the Indigenous Centre at the University of Toronto and has more than 20 years of experience working in native and multicultural communities in Canada, the United States, England, Germany, Poland and Wales.

Criger began the assemblies by conducting a purification smudging ceremony on stage and then joined principal Sam McKinney in a discussion of the importance of land to indigenous peoples and the issues of diversity and inclusion. Students then had the chance to ask questions of the Cayuga (Guyohkohnyoh) member of the Turtle Clan of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee or People of the Longhouse.

“Criger’s emphasis on pursuing a higher purpose in life shone through in his words,” Senior Division head Scott Cowie wrote in his Jan. 26 Heads Up message to parents. “There was a reflective, wise and grateful tone in all that he said, as he challenged the boys to share their gifts of knowledge and wisdom with each other.”

McKinney also used the day to release UCC’s “acknowledgment of traditional land” statement, which was derived after collaboration with faculty members and students. It will become a regular part of the opening of significant assemblies and occasions at the College.

School boards across Ontario, including the Toronto District School Board, adopted this important practice at the start of this school year. UCC now joins them by issuing this statement:

“We wish to acknowledge this land we gather on today at Upper Canada College. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of many peoples, including the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and more recently the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to gather and learn on this land.”

Grade 12 student Dominick Peters, whose mother is Japanese and father is an indigenous Canadian, gave a “This I Believe” speech that touched on missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, racist names and logos for professional sports teams, and the hardships of students forced to attend residential schools.

“Indigenous people will be stubborn and say that we don’t need help and support, but we truly do,” said Peters. “Support is being there for your fellow Canadian.

“Support is to pick someone up when they are down. Support is to let someone know you are there for them and you have their back.”

Peters also suggested that Canada’s national languages shouldn’t be restricted to English and French and that at least one of the 60 indigenous languages spoken in the country should be added to the list.

“I believe that Canada is better than this,” he concluded.

“I’ve lived in this country my entire life and I know it is. I believe that once we come to the realization that we are one nation not two, we will strive for greatness as a country.”

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