Kahnawake Survival School to host commemorative walk on 40th Anniversary of walk-out

Kahnawake Survival School to host commemorative walk on 40th Anniversary of walk-out

(Photo credit: Jessica Deer 2018)

The Kahnawake Survival School will be hosting a commemorative walk, “Walk To KSS” on Thursday, September 6th, 2018 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the walk-out from Howard S. Billings (HSB) in 1978. Current KSS students will be bussed from home to the Knights of Columbus Hall (K of C) in Kahnawà:ke at 8am on Thursday, Sept 6th. The commemorative walk will take place shortly after 8am starting at the K of C to the present KSS site on Highway 132 arriving at approximately 11:00 am. The morning’s schedule will take place rain or shine and will include guest speakers and a tobacco burning. All community members are invited to participate in this event.

The 1978 walk-out was in protest of the implementation of Quebec’s Bill 101 language law which decreed French as the official language of Quebec. Part of the bill called for recent immigrants to send their children to French schools or apply for an eligibility certificate to send them to English schools. Kahnawà:ke students attending outside schools were required to produce the eligibility certificate which put Kahnawa’kehró:non in the same category as recent immigrants to Quebec. On a larger scale, Bill 101 violated the Two Row Wampum in that Quebec attempted to assert its jurisdiction over the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) people on education issues. The HSB administration could not accept Kahnawà:ke students without eligibility certificates so Kahnawà:ke students walked out of HSB in protest alongside community members on Wednesday, Sept 6, 1978. With volunteer help from the community and outside, Kahnawake created its own high school, Kahnawake Survival School, with first classes on Monday, September 11, 1978. With an emphasis on a culturally based curriculum, students were also taught core subjects in math, language arts, and science. The very name, “Survival School” was a reference to the survival of Kanien’kehá:ka culture and language.

“Outside governments believed the Survival School movement was a fad which would ultimately fail and everything would return to the ‘status quo’ but 40 years later we are still here and stronger than ever”, states Wayne Rice, KSS Social Studies teacher since 1990. “Original students from 1978 have witnessed their children and even grandchildren graduate from KSS and move on to other challenges. Graduates can been seen throughout the community leading productive lives and making positive contributions to Kahnawà:ke.”

With no high school in Kahnawà:ke at the time, Diane Deer, KSS alumna and current member of the Kahnawà:ke Combined Schools Committee was attending school outside of the community. “At the time of the walkout, I was 14 years old and attending high school over the bridge. I was not a happy camper! I remember feeling so hopeful and excited to learn from my mother (KSS founding member Nancy Deer) that we weren’t just walking out in protest of Bill 101, we were going to start our own high school here in Kahnawà:ke. I couldn’t wait to transfer and be a part of a great movement – part of history in the making. It was exciting times for sure - full of memories of great times and dedicated and determined people like my Mom - that is my driving force and I will always treasure that.”

Director of Education of the KEC, and KSS alumna Robin Delaronde took part in the walk out and vividly remembers the day when Kahnawà:ke stood together, then walked to protest the Bill. “I was just entering grade 8 in 1978,” stated Delaronde. “I fondly recall sitting on the school bus anxiously waiting to hear from representatives who entered HSB; waiting to hear if we would be permitted to enter the school without signed eligibility forms. Once informed that we could not enter, and that we would be getting off the bus to march back to Kahnawà:ke, I just knew I was a part of something huge. The dedication, strength and determination that came from our community and allies, following that march, will be forever engrained in my memory. The education I received at KSS provided me not only with the educational foundation required to enter CEGEP and University, but it provided me with pride in my identity, and determination to achieve whatever I set out to do. I want to thank the founding members as well as many others who played a vital role in supporting us to achieve our vision. “

On Tuesday, September 11th, another celebration will be held at KSS to celebrate the day in 1978 when the community created the Kahnawake Survival School, and classes began. The day will include guest speakers, a BBQ and a social in the afternoon.

For More Information, Contact:
Morgan Phillips, 40th Anniversary Coordinator
Kahnawake Survival School
(450) 638-4377 or (514) 214-1912