High school student walkout in Ontario

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High school student walkout in Ontario

Indygo Arscott is a grade eleven student attending an arts-focused high school in Toronto. They are gender nonbinary. They are Ojibwe, of the Marten Clan. And they are one of the instigators of the We The Students Do Not Consent day of action, happening on September 21st (or, for those for whom that is a PA day, on September 20th). Scott Neigh interviews Arscott about the day of action, in which students from schools across the province are invited to walk out of class or to take some other action, as they are able, to show their opposition to the new Ontario Conservative government's attacks on Indigenous-focused curriculum, on health curriculum that deals with sexual education, and on classrooms more generally.

This is not Arscott's first foray into grassroots political activism. About a year ago, as part of the very small amount of Indigenous content in their first high school history course, they learned something that they found striking: That Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald – a figure that they had to that point been taught in school and popular culture to respect and revere – was one of the architects of the residential school system. The stark division between the place given to Macdonald in settler mythologies of Canada versus the incredible harm done to Arscott's people by the residential school system sparked them to take action. That took the form of a petition to get all of the fourteen schools in Canada that are named after Macdonald to be renamed, which they pursued persistently in person and online, though so far without success.

Arscott's first inkling that the current action might be necessary came on June 7, 2018, when the Ontario Conservatives under the leadership of Doug Ford won a provincial election. Arscott described their immediate reaction as "terrified." They knew that this new government would do things "that would harm people like me, that would harm my friends, that would harm essentially anybody in Ontario that isn't a wealthy cisgender heterosexual white man."

Early policy moves by the government have decisively confirmed Arscott's initial suspicion that harm is on the agenda. In a clear rejection of the spirit of truth and reconciliation, one decision by the new government was to cancel, at the last minute, a major initiative in which people re-writing curriculum would have met with Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and leaders to inform their work. The new government also ordered schools not to teach the sex ed curriculum that had been instituted in 2015, which includes extensive attention to questions of consent and to the ways in which information technology shapes youth experiences today, along with a much greater openness to the experiences of LGBTQ people. Instead, they have been ordered to teach the curriculum written way back in 1998, which deals with none of those things in any depth. As someone who is both Indigenous and within the LGBTQ spectrum of identities, these changes – particularly in the context of the broader agenda being pursued by the Conservatives – made Arscott feel the need to take action.

Originally, their idea was to organize a walkout solely at their own school. Arscott's mother, however, suggested that they should aim bigger – that they should put the idea out there on social media and see if students at other schools and in other parts of Ontario might be interested as well. The Facebook event page circulated quickly, and in no time the number of people expressing interest was in the thousands. Arscott started getting emails and messages from students and parents expressing support and asking for advice. Though they are still very much in the process of learning themselves, Arscott and their main co-organizer have produced brief, accessible how-to guides for both students and teachers.

On the day of action itself, in some places, there will be student walkouts – it's not clear yet how many – and in other places students will be taking action in other ways. Some will be wearing purple to symbolize their opposition to the Conservative attacks. Some will be holding film screenings, fundraisers, and discussions. Arscott hopes that all of these things will show up prominently on social media, accompanied by the hashtag #WeTheStudentsDoNotConsent.

Image: The image modified for use in this post is used with permission of Indygo Arscott.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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