For the past two years, a team of seven students in Selkirk Secondary’s Aboriginal Education program have created four issues of the Ab Ed Journal, a magazine featuring student-created articles and artwork celebrating Indigenous culture and highlighting the issues of a modern Indigenous Canadian.
From the Trail of Tears and Every Child Matters to the difference between cultural appreciation versus appropriation, bannock recipes and Indigenous movie reviews, these students have tackled countless stories and created something they are truly proud of, that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
Ciara Robison is the editor of the Ab Ed Journal. As with many of her peers involved in the project with Indigenous ancestry, Robison is Metis and was drawn to the project as a pathway to reconnect with her culture. Not only has she been able to accomplish that, Robison has also discovered a passion for journalism and will be going to the University of Ottawa next year to pursue a degree in the field.
As a grade 12 student Volume 2 Issue 2 will be Robison’s last with the Journal, and while she said she feels melancholic to be moving on from it, she’s grateful for the experience and knows she will try to stay involved after she’s moved on.
“It feels like it’s a part of all of us and all of our journeys at Selkirk especially and it brought us together really, really well,” Robison said. “We all get along super well and have become a pretty good group of friends. So it’s bittersweet because it helped me figure out what I want to do, but it’s also really hard to let go of it and move on to different things.”
The Bulletin sat down at Selkirk with Robison and two of her peers, Rheo Touzin and Emi Callele, as well as Aboriginal Education Support Worker Esther Sylvestre and Aboriginal Educational Assistant Amy McInnis.
Touzin and Callele are both Metis and spoke about a desire to reconnect to their Indigenous selves and the opportunity to do so this project has afforded them.
“Growing up I also noticed there was a disconnect in the stories that I was taught as a Metis person compared to what my schools have taught me, so I wanted to share my stories and my knowledge with the school in a more authentic way,” Callele said.
A self-described STEM kid en route to the University of British Columbia next year for a Bachellor in Applied Science, Calelle has enjoyed highlighting small Indigenous businesses, and focusing on fashion, business and beauty subjects, such as Sephora’s Cheekbone Beauty campaign, as well as talking about regalia and the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation.
“I never really had an interest or cared for English but I found this was a great gateway to improve my writing and also learning how to write for different audiences, depending on if it’s mature subject matter, or making things more inclusive,” Calelle said.
Sometimes the material these students tackle is indeed sensitive. Sylvestre explained that there are times when certain pieces needed to be censored, because while the stories writers themselves can handle the subject matter, they’re aware that their audience includes elementary-aged students as well.
Sylvestre, who said one of her main goals at Selkirk is to raise the Indigenous profile, had the idea for this project a couple of years ago and at the time thought it would be little more than a one, maybe two page thing with a few paragraphs and some images. She had no idea how much the project would blossom.
“My main goal was always just to create Indigenous pride within the students themselves,” Sylvestre said. “I find a lot of kids are embarrassed to admit they’re Indigenous it’s been a struggle, we’ve had lots of struggles with that kind of stuff.”
Sylvestre also helps to oversee the theme. The most recent issue’s theme was a modern Indigenous person living with traditional values, which oftentimes can be quite a conflict and difficult to understand, Sylvestre explains.
“Our elders coming from a trauma base do not speak about tradition because it was knocked out of them, so how do we bring that back and it’s going to take a long time,” she said. “So these guys have been huge advocates for Indigenous pride.”
As a grade 11 student, Touzin is looking forward to returning to the Journal next year. He told the Bulletin his favourite aspect of the project has been getting to interview people in the community and getting to hear and share their remarkable stories.
“Over the past few years my family has been on a whole thing of trying to reconnect to our Indigenous selves and our past and doing more research on where we came from,” he said. “And so I’ve been trying to involve myself in anything Indigenous-related since middle school and seeing this opportunity come up was kind of a blessing, so I’m really glad I got to participate in it.”
Some of the students will be moving on to the next stage of their lives next year while others take up the mantle, and it will be exciting to see how much further this project grows, the stories it tells and the lives it influences.