WINNIPEG — Indigenous leaders are speaking out against a new, private Jesuit school set to open in September in Winnipeg’s north end, saying it is too reminiscent of a residential school.
Gonzaga Middle School aims to support academically gifted students with longer hours and smaller class sizes.
It also plans to remove barriers for low-income and academically gifted students between Grades 6 and 8 by offering free education.
But the activists say a private Catholic school in a largely Indigenous neighbourhood is a bad idea and goes against recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
They went to the Winnipeg School Division on Monday night and asked for support.
Larry Morrissette, executive director of Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin, an organization that works with youth in gangs, and James Favel have also written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to intervene.
Favel says the school is already causing cracks in the community.
“It’s divided us into those who want it and those who don’t,” he says. “It’s painful, the wounds are still too fresh.”
School board vice-chairwoman Sherri Rollins says the board can’t intervene with private school matters, but it can be an ally and listen to community concerns.
In a statement online, Gonzaga Middle School Principal Tom Lussier says the school does not want to repeat mistakes of the past.
He says Gonzaga endorses and encourages the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and adds that Gonzaga will teach students about the legacy of residential schools, and the Catholic Church’s role in their development and operation.
Vivian Ketchum, a former residential school student, attended Monday’s meeting and says she will never send her children to Gonzaga.
“Now I can’t speak my language,” she says. “I’m afraid of my own culture. I was taught fear. That’s what these type of schools teach, fear.”
Other Indigenous leaders have come out in support of the school.
Manitoba Treaty Commissioner James Wilson says Gonzaga will give Indigenous students opportunities to succeed academically.
Niigaan Sinclair, an Indigenous studies professor at the University of Manitoba, is on the school’s board of directors while Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief was on its advisory committee.
–The Canadian Press