Connaught Street students show 'incredible growth' in Bear Witness project

Article Posted: Thursday, May 09, 2019

​Dozens of Grades 3-5 students from Connaught Street School celebrated the official opening of Bear Witness Day celebrations on May 9 while surrounded by their Spirit bears in the downstairs gallery at Government House. They were joined by First Nations Elder Imelda Perley who told them she could feel both love and a spirit of healing in the room

"This is what Jordan would have wanted," Perley explained. "He wanted to be loved."

Every year on May 10, people across the country gather their Spirit bears together to celebrate Bear Witness Day and Jordan’s Principle, a guiding rule established in 2007 to help ensure First Nations children have access to all public services when they need them.  On May 10, 2016, in a landmark decision, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the federal government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle, named in memory of Jordan River Anderson from the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. The Spirit Bear, representing First Nations children across the country, presided over these hearings.

Connaught Street School received a Global Competencies grant from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to embark on their long term project. Grade 3-5 students heard from First Nations leaders, who also worked with them to make beaded necklaces and leather medicine bags and name their bears. The students were gifted with a string of copper jingles for their bears from Amanda Reid Rogers, vice-president of Indigenous Engagement at the University of New Brunswick, which they rang in recognition of Jordan River Anderson and their work in taking part in reconciliation. Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to Jordan’s family and also attended an annual powwow hosted by UNB.

On May 10, all students from Connaught will visit Government House to learn from Oromocto First Nation students about traditional dancing, drumming and oral storytelling as well as the meaning of a smudge ceremony. They will also visit the downstairs gallery to view the Spirit Bear exhibit which will be open to the public weekdays for the rest of the month. 

Principal Barb Corbett said the Bear Witness project created "an in-depth and authentic learning experience for students and teaches the importance of treating everyone fairly regardless of who they are within the context of a First Nations cultural experience."

During opening ceremonies, students sang about the Wolastoqi River in the Wolastoqiyik language before reading their letters to Jordan's family in which they called for an end to discrimination and unfair treatment for First Nations children in need of help from government.

"Your spirit created Jordan's Principle which is helping other First Nations people across Canada," read student Oliver Youssef.

"I hope people learn from your story and make things better," read student Liam Mooers.

"Students have shown incredible growth while doing this project," said teacher Richard Champagne. "This is a celebration of what you have accomplished and what you have learned. Take that knowledge with you into your future."

"I have never seen a school so committed to indulging in our culture and Indigenous traditions," said Sarah Francis, First Nations subject coordinator for ASD-W, who helped lead the project. "Students have poured their heart and soul into this and First Nations leaders were there to support them."

As the ceremony began, Francis drummed and performed the Honour Song. While on the podium, she shed a few tears over her passion for the project, the enthusiasm of students and the support received from First Nations elders and school administration in seeing it to fruition.

"My best advice for you is what I have been taught by the elders - always speak from a place of love," Francis told the students.

Connaught Street School students have also been invited to the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick on May 10 to be introduced by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Jake Stewart in recognition of Bear Witness Day.

Shown in the photos below are Connaught Street students (1) Shoroug Odeh, Grade 3; (2) Luke Thornton Lewis, Grade 3; (3) Gwen Ashfield and Miriam Field, Grade 3; (4) Lily Seabrook, Grade 3, who were all enjoying their Spirit Bear display at Government House.