Two teenage girls from River Heights have become the unlikely local heralds of the evolving relationship between Canada's aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.
Claire Aiello and Erin Teschuk embraced a Grade 10 Canadian history project on the Indian Act and a year later continue to trumpet how mainstream society misled, and continues to mistreat, First Nations people.
"The Indian Act and the treaties aren't just part of our history, it's part of everything today," Teschuk said.
"We're always happy to talk to younger students and others about it," Aiello said.
Aiello and Teschuk are 17-year-old students at St. Mary's Academy who relish every opportunity to engage others in exploring the failings of the Indian Act and treaties.
Saturday morning, the dynamic St. Mary's duo shared the podium with Manitoba Treaty Commissioner James Wilson and University of Winnipeg history professor Jean Friesen, addressing about 100 people at a forum at Crossways in Common organized by three local KAIROS groups -- the interdenominational organization that promotes justice and human rights.
"It's really inspiring to see Claire and Erin -- the message that we've been delivering has really clicked with them," Wilson said. "They have a real sense of social justice."
One of Wilson's goals is to improve the understanding of treaties and the treaty relationship. The Treaty Relations Commission has developed resource materials for Grades 5 and 6 and is promoting their adoption into the school curriculum.
Aiello and Teschuk said they are convinced the treaties and Indian Act have to become part of the core curriculum for all grades and not just limited to the study of history.
Aiello's and Teschuk's Grade 10 history project was entitled Deception With The Indian Act and The Treaties. They used school texts for background research but it took off after they met Wilson and talked to him and other elders at the Treaty Relations Commission, understanding firsthand the devastating and long-lasting impacts of residential schools and the broken promises inherent in the treaties.
Aiello and Teschuk invited Wilson and several elders to speak to students and then the pair, along with several other student groups, presented their findings to Wilson and the Treaty Relations Commission office.
Wilson said it's heartening to see young people like Aiello and Teschuk tackle significant issues.
"Younger students are taught about treaties and promises but older students learn the details about the Indian Act and the tough issues that we're dealing with every day -- Kapyong Barracks, water and resources," Wilson said. "The students can see solutions and the roles they can play. They understand it's about them."