Two leaders in the indigenous community spoke out against a new Jesuit private school in the North End.

Gonzaga Middle School aims to support academically gifted students with longer hours and smaller class sizes.

The Jesuit model has worked in other markets, but activists say a private Catholic school in a largely indigenous neighbourhood is a bad idea.

Activists Larry Morrissette and James Favel say the new school is too reminiscent of a residential school.

The men voiced their concerns at a Winnipeg School Division special board meeting on Monday night.

Favel said the school is already causing cracks in the community.

“It’s divided us into those who want it and those who don’t. It’s painful, the wounds are still too fresh,” he said.

Morrissette said the school goes against recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He and Favel penned a letter to Pope Francis asking him to intervene.

“We’re asking the Pope to at least have a head’s up that these things are going on,” said Morrissette.

The letter will also be sent to Canadian Jesuit leaders and the Archdiocese of Winnipeg.

School board vice-chair Sherri Rollins said the board can’t intervene with private school matters, but it can be an ally and listen to community concerns.

In a statement online, Gonzaga Middle School Principal Tom Lussier said that the school does not want to repeat mistakes of the past.

He said that Gonzaga “endorse[s] and encourage[s] the Calls to Action of the TRC Report with respect to education.”

Lussier said that Gonzaga will teach students about the legacy of residential schools, and the Catholic Church’s role in its development and delivery.

The legacy of residential schools lives in Vivian Ketchum, a former student who said she would never send her children to Gonzaga Middle School.

“Now, I can’t speak my language. I’m afraid of my own culture. I was taught fear. That’s what these type of schools teach, fear,” said Ketchum.

Indigenous leaders have also publicly supported the school. Manitoba Treaty Commissioner James Wilson said in an earlier statement to CTV that Gonzaga will give indigenous students opportunities to succeed academically.

University of Manitoba indigenous studies professor Niigaan Sinclair is on the school’s board of directors. Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief was on Gonzaga’s advisory committee.

Gonzaga Middle School is slated to open in September.