Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal isn’t wrong when he says high school can be a place where “these incidents happen sometimes.”
Two students get into a fight and in the fallout, their friends all line up behind them in support. Words are exchanged, tensions flare and more people involve themselves on either side.
“It comes out as being sensationalized,” said Twakkal of the Muslim Resources Centre for Social Support and Integration in London, Ont.
Earlier this month, Saunders Secondary School in London, Ont., found itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after videos online showed an Indigenous student and one of Middle Eastern descent fighting.
Days later came a video of two girls from those communities nose to nose in a tense exchange.
“It started as an incident between two individuals, then they brought their respective network of friends, and it came to be viewed as being between two groups,” said Twakkal.
Tensions were so high earlier this month that some parents from Oneida on the Thames, Chippewa of the Thames and Munsee, took their kids out of Saunders Secondary School and had them bussed home to the three communities, some 30 minutes south of the city.
A social media threat also spurred community members to set up checkpoints over the Thanksgiving weekend, which turned away several vehicles with non-community members who reportedly came to the community in the middle of the night one evening, said patrol member Darryl Chrisjohn.
He says tensions are dying down in recent weeks but no thanks to the bands or school.
“All they’ve come up with is they want a meeting with their families and our kids’ families and want to meet with the school – that should have been done a month ago,” Chrisjohn told APTN InFocus.
“These individuals have to understand they’re visitors to this land. This is our land just like anyone else under the Two Row Wampum – non-natives, black, Chinese – it’s to all who set foot on our land to come here to live. They have to understand they’re visitors on our land,” Chrisjohn said.
Twakkal said the tensions at Saunders were an opportunity to drive that point home.
“We are all treaty people, we are all living on lands that were taken unjustly and this was part of a sermon I delivered two weeks ago to indicate we do have an obligation to Indigenous peoples on this land and some of the recommendations that are part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Twakkal said.
“We need to be able to understand some of the injustices that have taken place and we need to take steps towards reconciliation.”