By Jeff Halcrow, Spoke News
Following last week’s Ontario-wide high school walkout, students in Kitchener-Waterloo organized their own protest to challenge the Ford government’s rollback on sexual education and Indigenous programs.
One of the latest walkouts took place at 10:45 am on Friday, Sept. 28, at Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, during the school’s lunch period. Most schools in Waterloo Region were unable to observe the walkouts the previous week due to a PA day.
Anissa Milner, an Indigenous student who spoke at the event, said that “it started out as something that the teachers and the students were working on together, but when the reversions were made, the teachers couldn’t be involved.” It is unknown whether the district school board or local administration forbade the teachers at Eastwood from formally participating. Regardless, some staff at Eastwood were present on the field wearing orange in support of the proposed day of truth and reconciliation, remembering Indigenous residential schools.
A pair of Grade 12 students, Hannah Blair and Chelsey Davidson, were the main organizers of the walkout and invited students and other local figures to speak, such as Kitchener centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo.
In their speech, Blair and Davidson addressed their student body with a focus on defending their right to education and the hole left by the Ford government’s scrapping of the previous sexual education and Indigenous history programs.
“We support our siblings, our educators, our future children and those who can’t advocate for themselves … it is unjust to end the development of Indigenous studies and reverse the sex education back to the 1998 curriculum, affecting many students’ lives. We cannot vote, but our voices will not be silenced … We will not let Ford oppress our minorities, because equality does mean everyone and that includes education.”
The demonstration continued with speeches from Milner and Lindo later taking the stage.
According to Milner, students at Eastwood wanted to be involved in the walkout due to the large population of Indigenous students.
Before her speech, Milner told Spoke News that “we had teachers who wanted to come out and speak about the matter, and teachers who wanted to put their input in and they were being silenced as well …. What we’re trying to do here today [is] start something. We’re trying to empower everyone to make the best of their education, because at the end of the day, it is our education.”
Later, Milner took the stage to voice her frustration over the removal of Indigenous studies programs in Ontario schools, and the lack of earlier course availability.
“We didn’t learn about the past between Indigenous people and Canadians, and teachers can’t teach what they don’t know, and what they are not supposed to learn.”
Milner continued, referencing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and its end goal of mending relations between Indigenous peoples and Canadians, primarily through acknowledging and teaching the history.
“Without acknowledgement, there is no truth in our past. Without truth, there will be no reconciliation.”
Milner later extended her concerns to the greater Indigenous community, bringing attention to the number of Indigenous peoples still living in impoverished conditions.
“People are affected and will continue to be affected until their voices are heard. Right now our voices are not being heard and our stories are not being shared.”
With regard to the absence of classes that teach Indigenous history she continued: “Because the education system does not include the proposed new curriculum, we only learn the bare minimum when it comes to Indigenous history and the issues that are present in today’s society .… So these reversions to our curriculum are unwanted and outdated.”
Subsequently, Lindo took the stage to praise students for their activism and share some of her experiences with the new Conservative government at Queen’s Park. According to Lindo, as of Sept. 27 there was “funding from the province that was supposed to go to legal clinics — that were working to train other lawyers, 70 law firms and lawyers across Ontario — is being withheld by the government.” The group would have been a joint effort between Ontario law firms to train and educate people on LGBTQ+ and Indigenous rights.
Lindo highlighted that there was no mention of reconciliation in the Conservative’s platform during the election.
In her closing remarks, Lindo urged students to reach out to other MPPs, including those “who are conservative and are not standing up.” Lindo went on to describe the issue as “not about partisan politics. This is about something very simple: Do we love each other and care for each other or do we not?”
The walkout continued until end end of Eastwood’s lunch period, where students could sign a petition on site or online to express their frustrations.
While most of the students of Waterloo Region may not yet be able to vote, they are certainly making themselves heard.
Below are some additional photos of some of the protest signs students had made.