Conestoga news

December 11, 2023 5:55 AM

Orange Shirt Day fundraiser supports Indigenous immersion school

An immersion school dedicated to Indigenous language revitalization will get a $10,000 donation from the Conestoga community.

Orange Shirt Day fundraising efforts lead by the Office of Indigenous Initiatives in September raised $4,800. The college matched that contribution with $5,200.

Orange Shirt Day fundraising efforts lead by the Office of Indigenous Initiatives in September during Truth and Reconciliation Week raised $4,800, and the college matched that contribution with $5,200.

The money will benefit Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo, an elementary and secondary school on the Six Nations of the Grand River territory. Founded in 1986, the school teaches the Gayogohono (Cayuga) and Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) languages with the aim of helping to preserve traditions and cultures of the Rotinonhsion:ni/Hodinohso:ni.

The private school, which depends on community support as it’s only partially government funded, is building a new school space to replace its current location in an arena.

Students who attend the school graduate as fluent speakers confident in their culture, identity and languages, making it an incredibly important initiative to support as an effort toward building relationships with Indigenous communities at Conestoga.

“Now we’re reaching into communities and touching communities in a really sincere way,” said Ian Maracle, Indigenous marketing co-ordinator at Conestoga.

The orange shirts sold featured a striking design with a feather and banner reading “Every Child Matters” by Indigenous artist and business owner Jay Soule from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. It was important for the fundraising team to work with Indigenous artists when sourcing the T-shirts. 

Orange Shirt Day started in 2013 to honour Indigenous children who were sent away to residential schools in Canada.

The response was tremendous. The $25 shirts sold out quickly and needed a restock.

“I was more excited to see how people would respond. People were really excited to get their hands on one,” Maracle said.

Danielle Boissoneau, Director of the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, found the overwhelming response to the fundraiser “encouraging and comforting.”

Boissoneau, whose mother went to residential school, said the Truth and Reconciliation process is about restoring what was taken from Indigenous people. “And that’s access to language, culture and community.”

They’ve been honoured with an invitation to join one of the school’s socials to present the cheque and meet students, community members and school administrators.

Maracle is working diligently for Indigenous people to be comfortable at Conestoga, and he sees the Orange Shirt Day fundraiser and Indigenous music festival in mid-November as two positive steps in the reconciliation process.

Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginning, provides services and ongoing support for Indigenous students to assist with a smooth transition to college life. Services include various social and cultural events and activities, traditional counselling, and Elders-in-Residence programs.

Visit Conestoga’s website to learn more about Indigenous initiatives at the college.

To learn more about Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo, visit