On the Friday of Truth of Reconciliation Week, Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School played McKinnon Park Secondary School in its now-annual Every Child Matters football game, a collaborative effort planned by the PJ team, the Indigenous Student Association, Athletic Council and Student Council.
The game has become an opportunity for players and students to honour ongoing commitments to Truth and Reconciliation efforts. This year, the decision was made to donate contributions from student ticket sales to Woodland Cultural Centre, supporting educational programming to preserve, promote and strengthen Indigenous culture, and opportunities for everyone to learn more about the tragic legacies of the residential school system. The team donned orange ribbons, and the halftime presentation included performers from Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. The game was well attended, including PJ elementary feeder schools and McKinnon Park students who made the trek.
At the heart of Pauline Johnson’s football program, and in many other facets of the school, is John Macdonald, head coach of the team, SOAR trainer, English teacher and guidance counsellor. Macdonald is Mohawk, Wolf clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River, a graduate of Simcoe Composite School, and a former Hamilton Tiger-Cat.
“I played football in the CFL at a time when Indigeneity wasn’t highlighted or elevated by mainstream media, and to see that turn around really demonstrates how far we’ve come with respect to social justice,” said Macdonald. “I also grew up with no Indigenous role models in my daily life as a student, so to have the opportunity to be that person for my own students and athletes fills my heart with happiness.”
The day after the Every Child Matters game, Macdonald’s many roles came together, as Truth and Reconciliation commitments took the focus on the field at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats game against the Calgary Stampeders. Macdonald, a former defensive lineman, was honoured as Alumnus of Distinction at the game, recognized for the three seasons he played with the Tiger-Cats (2002-04), and what he’s accomplished in his career in education since. So it was icing on the cake when Macdonald was joined on the field by the players from the Every Child Matters game the day before, with McKinnon Park and Pauline Johnson students in their jerseys taking it in from the sidelines.
“It’s a fitting and incredibly well-deserved honour, not only recognizing John’s accomplishments as a player, but also everything he’s achieved since then as a role model for student athletes, and for all learners,” said Griffin Cobb, principal at Pauline Johnson. “As the former department head for English, he knows how important the academic piece is for young athletes in the SOAR program, and as an Indigenous teacher who is connected to that part of his life, he brings an important perspective that enables Indigenous students to see themselves.”
There was another Grand Erie connection on the field for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, one with a big visual impact. Pre-game, Tiger-Cat players donned jerseys with an Indigenous-inspired, reimagined logo designed by Kyle Joedicke, an artist who’s Cayuga, and who attended McKinnon Park Secondary School where Macdonald was one of his teachers.
“Being recognized on Truth and Reconciliation Day as an Indigenous Tiger-Cat alumnus, coach, and teacher is the ultimate honour – definitely a highlight of my life,” Macdonald added. “I would like to thank the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Canadian Football League, Grand Erie District School Board, and the staff and students at Pauline Johnson for their ongoing support of Indigenous initiatives. This is reconciliation in action. Nia:wen!”
Schools in Grand Erie are situated on the longstanding territories of Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. During Truth and Reconciliation Week (Sept. 25 – 29), schools and classrooms across Grand Erie renewed commitments to deepening an understanding of the collective histories, and the intergenerational trauma resulting from the residential school system in Canada. Throughout the year, a reconciliation framework and cross-curricular approach opens doors to important conversations and ongoing commitments to action.