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Burnaby valedictorian urges fellow Indigenous grads to define Truth and Reconciliation for themselves

Moscrop Secondary grad Nathaniel Frank-Piche shared speech at school board meeting Tuesday
Indigenous valedictoria
Burnaby student Nathaniel Frank-Piche

When Nathaniel Frank-Piche was told he’d be giving the valedictory address to his fellow Indigenous grads in the Burnaby school district this year, he said he got right to work and had most of it done that same day.

“It flowed out of me,” he told trustees at a school board meeting this week.

Frank-Piche, a member of the Dene and Lil'wat First Nations, will deliver his address to his fellow Indigenous Moscrop Secondary School grads at a special grad ceremony on June 28, but trustees got a preview on Tuesday.

He spoke of the need for Indigenous youth to define for themselves what Truth and Reconciliation means.

“As Indigenous youth, we are often looked upon as the future,” he said. “We are often questioned what we want the future to look like. As we go through our years, we learn of the past, we learn of what the word Indigenous means and we learn of Truth and Reconciliation and what that means. You can’t learn this from others. You need to learn it from yourself. What does it mean to you? What do people have to make up to you through Truth and Reconciliation? I ponder these and I have more questions than answers. Forgiveness may be difficult to attain, but healing may be possible.”

Frank-Piche called residential schools and the intergenerational trauma they’ve created a “plague that infects Indigenous people.”

“Even though I didn’t go to the school myself, I still feel the struggles, the crashing waves, the rubble after the tsunami, trying to rebuild,” he said. “I’M trying to rebuild what I didn’t even know was there, trying to read what we didn’t even write, trying to learn from who can still speak. It’s a struggle to uncover our culture, and, as Indigenous youth, we have to work towards Truth and Reconciliation and to identify what it means to us, so we can show what it truly is. This is the path to healing because others might say what Truth and Reconciliation is, but that may not be what it means to you. YOU are the answer to what Truth and Reconciliation is. YOU determine what that is going to look like and what that is going to be. You decide whether trauma defines you or whether you are much more than that.”

He urged his fellow grads to share their burdens and move forward together.

“This is not a solo act,” he said. “WE are the stories we carry, good and bad. We can choose whether to bear that weight alone or to share the burden. And, hearing them, with each tear drop together we will form a raging river.”

Honouring Our Youth ceremonies for Indigenous grads and their families are a longstanding tradition in the Burnaby school district.

Normally, Indigenous grads from around the district gather for a single event in June, but due to COVID-19, ceremonies have been organized at each high school.

Those events will be in addition to the students' regular grad ceremonies.

Frank-Piche’s speech will be recorded for future use across the district, according to school officials.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor