St. Pius X Grade 5 students Maksimas Viskotas and Olivia Wall, winners of the Imagine a Canada peace and reconciliation contest. Photo courtesy St. Pius X School

Students recognized for reconciliation vision

By  Nicholas Elbers, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 15, 2022

Dealing with Canada’s residential school history is challenging enough for the best of us, but two Vancouver Catholic school students are being recognized nationally for their clear vision of a “reconciled Canada.”

VANCOUVER -- Dealing with Canada’s residential school history is challenging enough for the best of us, but two Vancouver Catholic school students are being recognized nationally for their clear vision of a “reconciled Canada.”

St. Pius X students Maksimas Viskotas and Olivia Wall were chosen as the sole winners from B.C. of the Imagine a Canada contest, put on by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to promote young leadership in the Peace and Reconciliation movement.

Viskontas wrote an essay he hoped would bring awareness to Canada’s residential school past in order to help people understand how Canadians are currently dealing with truth and reconciliation.

“Defining truth and reconciliation is not something simple, but rather a complicated process; one which requires both prudent attention and perseverance,” he wrote.

Viskontas perceptively connects our understanding of the past with a hopeful view of the future. He writes, “the history of this nation is filled with dark moments… there is only a single thing we can protect: our future.”

Wall took a very different approach with her submission by writing and recording a song called Hand in Hand, about her experience learning about the history of residential schools in Canada. She wanted the song to sound like a fall day in September, and the music conjures images of a student setting out to learn at the beginning of a new school year.

The song is hopeful, even as it challenges the listener to reconsider their place in the reconciliation process.

Grade 5 teacher Marielle Lung says her students’ submissions have deeply impacted how she will teach these issues going forward.

“As (Catholic educators) it’s our duty and responsibility to engage our students, and the future generations, in difficult but necessary conversations,” she said.

“This is the first time I’ve done a project like this. I was absolutely amazed by our students’ level of thought, reflection and understanding. It’s truly changed my approach to teaching these difficult and sensitive topics.”

Winners were invited to participate in a virtual leadership conference June 10 where they heard from First Nations “elders, survivors and knowledge keepers as well as special guests about how to engage and lead difficult conversations and be a “Reconciliation leader.”

The winning submission will be published in a digital booklet created by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

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