On September 30, Canada recognized the first annual Truth and Reconciliation Day, a day to honour residential school survivors, their families, and their stories.
New Brunswick chose not to recognize this as a provincial holiday, frustrating many in the community, and leading to a walkout at Fredericton High School. This event, which was not organized by the school’s administration, saw approximately 200 students leave their classes and come together on the football field.
Theo Dawson, a grade 12 student at FHS, detailed his frustration with the situation in a series of Instagram stories on September 30, and also posted an infographic-style carousel post, informing the public of what had transpired.
“Originally, this demonstration was to protest the provincial government’s decision not to recognize the holiday,” said Dawson. “It became clear that the government was not the only institution deserving of contempt.”
He explained that the school addressed Truth and Reconciliation day with a series of videos detailing the horrors of residential schooling, and an announcement from the principal, Stephanie Tomilson, acknowledging the importance of the day.
Like many other students, Dawson did not feel that this acknowledgement was adequate, and he chose to attend the student-organized walkout.
“The principal placed herself in the middle of the crowd, and everybody gathered around,” said Dawson. “And she goes, ‘FHS did not organize. Is anybody willing to come forward and speak on about this, about why you’re all here?’”
As explained by Dawson, nobody stepped forward to take responsibility for organizing the event, but students began shouting out questions for administration regarding the handling of the day’s events.
“It felt like she was projecting onto us that she felt like we were just all a bunch of no good kids skipping class,” explained Dawson.
Jade Perley, a grade 10 Indigenous student at FHS, came forward to talk with administration, expressing her frustration.
“While Jade spoke passionately about her people and the meaning of the day, and the protest, about how much the school’s actions hurt, the principal had little to say except for criticizing her tone,” explained Dawson in the Instagram post.
“She really became one of my heroes,” he later said.
As a result of the posts that Dawson made on September 30, particularly several Instagram stories which contained profane language, Dawson received a 5-day out-of-school suspension.
“I remember looking at [the post] and realizing that it might make my message more hostile, and make people less willing to listen to it,” explained Dawson, saying that his mother helped him realize that his use of profanity came out of anger.
Dawson explained this to administration at an in-person meeting with his parents, one that he was initially not invited to attend.
“I am a 17-year-old man. I can speak to my own actions, and I have responsibility for my own actions,” he said, with his father also insisting that he be in attendance at the meeting.
FHS cited the reasons for the meeting as the following:
- Using disrespectful or inappropriate language
- Accusations involving falsehood or malicious intent
- Disrespect of authority
- Verbal abuse – including generating inappropriate and unfounded rumours
At this meeting, Dawson expressed concerns about being able to complete schoolwork while out of class, but was met with no solution.
“They seemed almost shocked that I was interested in continuing to keep up with my classes for a week.”
In a phone call from the school, Dawson’s mother was told not to bring up the events of September 30 while meeting with administration.
“They said, specifically, ‘this is not to discuss September 30,’ this was to discuss only what I posted,” he said.
In a follow-up Instagram post, Dawson shared several stories from students at Fredericton High School that have experienced microaggressions.
“I once again encourage people to spread this post. Not because I got suspended, but because these two stories are just a microcosm of what goes on every day at this school and in the education system.”