A pair of local Indigenous activists had a captive audience Monday night, voicing their displeasure with a Jesuit school at a Winnipeg School Division meeting.
Larry Morrisette and James Favel are worried about Gonzaga Middle School, a private Jesuit school scheduled to open in the North End in the fall.
Morrisette and Favel both work in the North End and have said the Jesuit school goes against what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is calling for. They say by putting a Catholic-based school in a heavily Indigenous community, it bears resemblance to what residential schools did.
But the Winnipeg School Division has no jurisdiction over a private school. So what can be gained by meeting with trustees?
“The school division needs to step to the plate about what they’re doing with private education, what their strides are to make change and how they’re adapting the TRC recommendations,” said Morrisette. Added Favel, “Just getting it on record, our opinions. As a community leader, I’m taking this upon myself to voice those frustrations and those concerns that my community has. I’m satisfied that our message was heard and that it will be put out there properly.”
The two have publicly decried the plan in the past and have written a letter to Pope Francis, asking him to intervene and shut down the school. The effort to open the 60-student Catholic-based school is led by Mark and Steve Chipman. Morrisette says they have not been able to secure a meeting with the backers of Gonzaga.
“They know where we are. We aren’t going anywhere,” Morrisette explained. “The bottom line is, people need to look at the TRC recommendations. They speak for themselves. [Residential school] survivors say they don’t support the school, and they’ve lived it.”
Board trustees share concerns about the school, namely that kids would be taken out of their system. The $3-million dollar cost of the school also bothers the board, as a number of members pointed out how much $3-million would help them.
“They clearly don’t feel that they’re in the right relationship with a new school coming in their own neighbourhood,” said Sherri Rollins, vice-chair of the Winnipeg School Division. “It’s budget time in the Winnipeg School Division and we’re concerned too about investments in public education. We like to keep our money, for sure.”
Supporters of the school would say that Gonzaga Middle School is just trying to help inner-city children succeed through education, but Morrisette is worried that they would pressure kids into adopting the Catholic faith.
“If they want to immerse, you take the word immerse and flip it over, and it becomes assimilation. That’s exactly what the TRC is speaking against.”
Rollins admits that the role of the Winnipeg Sschool Division in the matter is that of an ally and that there is not a whole lot they can do in terms of affecting any change. She hopes that Morrisette and Favel are able to have a fair consultation with Gonzaga Middle School to share their community’s concerns.