A project that challenges students to examine and respond to issues is also building intercultural understanding between high school students from different schools and different perspectives.
One Thunderous Voice brings together students from Aden Bowman Collegiate and the Constable Robin Cameron Education Complex on the Beardy's and Okemasis Cree Nation to develop friendships and engage in e-journalism projects at community learning events.
"The idea for our partnership actually comes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. One of those calls upon educators to create opportunities for students to develop intercultural understanding," said Sherry Van Hesteren, an education consultant with Saskatoon Public Schools.
"We thought, 'What would happen if we bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in our schools, but also bring together students from the city and students who live on reserve.' So we set about to do that and we were delighted that our school divisions supported us in doing that."
The two groups of students began coming together in in September 2017 to take part in activities that allow them to explore where they are positioned in culture and society and look at opportunities to make a difference.
"We focused on e-journalism because e-journalism provides the students with an opportunity to develop intercultural understanding of each other as they create," Van Hesteren said. "They actually create something that invites the broader community and supports the broader community to develop intercultural understanding as well."
The 16 students who are part of the project have attended events such as the Student Think Indigenous Conference, the 2018 Rural Education Conference and Aden Bowman's Multicultural Day. They have the opportunity to listen to speakers, engage in activities and develop their perspectives of social justice and community. They share their learning and experiences through words, images and video on the program's website onethunderousvoice.com.
The response to the project has been positive, including recognition of One Thunderous Voice as the top project from Saskatchewan following a call by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation that asked young people to share their vision of reconciliation. Student and staff representatives will be part of a national event in Winnipeg that will see youth leaders gather for two days of sharing, team-building, and leadership development in the context of the Calls to Action. Students will deliver a speech about their project during a June 1 ceremony at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
"Each of us found our own personal growth throughout this process and we all allow each other to grow too. We all have different interests that are able to come together and reach a mutual goal and it is definitely shaping us a lot," said Emma Zuck, a Grade 12 student at Aden Bowman. She said the unique experiences that are part of One Thunderous Voice help to create discussion outside of the project.
"Especially when we are learning about stuff that isn't taught within the curriculum directly, like the pass system. That is something we take back into our classrooms . . . and a lot of the work we did is going to be distributed within classrooms as discussion pieces. We are seeing a lot of direct impact within the classroom, which is really cool."
The project's name is drawn from a statement attributed to Chief Big Bear in the 1998 television mini-series about the life of the Plains Cree leader: "Who stirs in their sleep when a single buffalo runs? When a herd moves . . . we too, must shake the ground. We must speak with one thundering voice!"
Serena Gamble, a teacher from Beardy's and Okemasis, said the program provides students with an opportunity to come together, to realize they are not alone and to amplify their voices to bring attention to issues and "awaken those that are still asleep."
"The vision I had for this group," Gamble said, "is that collectively, by bringing together our students, they can create that thundering noise; that sound that is going to shake the Earth and a voice that is going to be heard across the Prairies, especially in this time right now when reconciliation is very crucial."
Reconciliation is an important part of public and policy conversation and Gamble believes One Thunderous Voice is one way in which students can build relationships, develop mutual respect and create understanding and awareness, something students are very passionate about.
"It is very important work," she said. "When we want to talk about making the change we need to see in society we need to start with the youth. We need to start with these amazing young people because they are going to be the advocates, they are going to be the leaders and they are going to start having those conversations."
The unique nature of the project has also been an opportunity for Van Hesteren, Gamble and Samantha Roberts, a teacher at Aden Bowman, to build intercultural understanding as educators as they work together and with their students.
"What really makes this a success is how we all work well together and how we all draw on each other's strengths. We are all coming together with one goal and one voice," Gamble said. "These young people are going to make change, I believe that."
— Student composite image from OneThunderousVoice.com