One day after a pair of Indigenous activists brought concerns about a North End Jesuit school to the Winnipeg School Division, the principal of that school is calling their arguments unfounded.
Tom Lussier is the principal of Gonzaga Middle School, which will open in the fall at 174 Maple Street. He disagrees with many of the points made by Larry Morrisette and James Favel at a special WSD board meeting Monday night.
The two activists compared putting the 60-student, Catholic-based private school in a heavily Indigenous area to residential schools poaching children, which Lussier says couldn’t be further from reality.
“We understand the reticence of some members of the community with respect to the fact that Gonzaga is going to be an inclusive Catholic school, but we’re not aiming to convert students. In fact, we are intentionally being respectful of other spiritual traditions. We want to help our students learn to respect their own faith and the faiths of others.”
Morrisette and Favel say the Jesuit school goes against the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stating that the Catholic church has “done enough damage.” Lussier says he understands where they are coming from, but explains that his school is fully in line with the TRC.
“We have consulted with Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders regarding the TRC report. We consulted with Justice Sinclair. We drafted a statement on reconciliation which is posted on our website, which tries to explain how we are addressing the recommendations of the TRC. We recognize the sorrowful legacy of residential schools.”
Both activists explained Monday that they have been unable to secure a meeting with the founders or board members of Gonzaga, but Lussier says he has never been contacted.
“Apparently they tried reaching us through some back channels. I don’t know that there’s anything that can be said that will convince them otherwise. They seem to be pretty firm in their views and not necessarily willing to listen in a way that would allow them to hear that we’re going to be quite different from what they might be thinking.”
The activists admit there are Indigenous leaders in the community that support the school. Lussier says it would offer free tuition to low-income students of all backgrounds between Grades 6 and 8, which is critical in a low-income area of the city.