-Click on image to see slideshow.–
Winnipeg’s Forks district was the scene of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first national event in June, held in conjunction with historic public hearings into the residential school era. Project of Heart was there as a featured activity, and for four days our interactive display was available to all visitors of the TRC event. Images from the event can be seen here.
A room was set up with tables where participants could decorate tiles, and laptops and headphones were available for people to view DVDs on the residential school era – and to engage in the social justice component of the exercise by signing online petitions and/or sending emails to elected representatives.
As well, a large map of Canada with all the locations of Indian Residential Schools was displayed prominently near the tile decorating station.
Participants were quite moved by the experience of commemorating the lives of the tens of thousands of students who went to school and never came back; many took pictures of the completed tiles as keepsakes.
Some of the best reporting of the event came from Cendrine Marrouat published this excellent review of the event and activities, including images of completed tiles.
As part of the launch of the Project of Heart exhibit, Pei-Ju Wang, a representative of P.O.H., gave the following address:
“It gives me great pleasure to greet you all here tonight, at The Forks. Thank you to the Cree, Metis, and the Anishnabeg, on whose traditional territories we are gathered.
“I also want to give thanks to the commissioners Wilton Littlechild and Marie Sinclair as well as to the TRC creative management team who invited Project of Heart to be a part of this event, and who have worked so tirelessly to insure that this project gets presented a way that that honours the the survivors and their families and pays homage to the countless lives of Indigenous children who did not live to tell their stories.
“Sylvia Smith, project creator and coordinator could not be here tonight but the following are her words:
“I don’t want to go into detail, repeating what you can read on the posters and in the literature on Project of Heart. What I want to do, is tell you the beginning of a story. It begins with naive students and a naive teacher–settlers…those just like me and like my students. We found out that the history we were taught in school and in University, was not a truthful history. We were puzzled. We had thought that this wonderful place that we were so proud to call “home”–Canada–was not always built on the noble characteristics we were told it was. We did some research. We talked to people–Indigenous people and informed settlers–who supported the new and disturbing things we were finding out…that what happened in Canada to thousands of children…was nothing less than genocide.
“We decided to do something about it. We wanted help people–our people– learn the truth. We wanted our friends and neighbours to know how the attitudes that created the past–that created the Indian Residential Schools–continue to be a part of the present. And we did do this and continue to do so. And that is why Project of Heart is here. It is here to remind Canadians that we are living on Indigenous land, that we’re still newcomers, and even though we tried our best to “kill the Indian within the Indian”, Aboriginal cultures were too strong, their connection to the land too great, to entirely succumb to our invasion.
“Project of Heart is about recognizing our “settler” ability to do the right thing. It is about our determination to recognize our dependence on those we continue to relegate to the margins. It is about acting responsibly and taking our civic duty to be responsible to all citizens, not just white people, seriously. It is about transforming our institutions and the communities we live in so that people, our relationships with each other, and the environment we live in, come first. It is about finding the courage to speak truth to power, however and whenever that power manifests itself. It is about doing what is right, so that justice is something that can be lived, not just given lip service. It’s about non-Indigenous Canadians, looking critically at ourselves and our institutions through the eyes of First Peoples, so we might see how we need to start thinking and acting differently.
“A truthful past is something rarely reflected in the story we tell ourselves. Project of Heart tries to help us tell the truth. With this acknowlegement, we can move forward, creating new knowledge, creating new possibilities, and creating a space for Indigenous knowledge to affect us all — to bring hope to us all. The gestures of reconciliation take the form of beautiful tiles, each tile representing the life of an Indigenous child who died as a result of a “social engineering project gone bad”. The tiles are a testament to our commitment to the truth and reconciliation process. Next, the gestures of reconciliation in the form of the social justice actions that will be performed here over the course of the next few days, will attest to our individual willingness to put our words into action. At the end, these works of art will be smudged by an Elder as we witness a ceremony that was once banned in this country.
“May the thousands of children who died so needlessly and so senselessly, not be forgotten. May their spirits watch over us as we learn and pay homage, so long overdue, now. And may the Indigenous children struggling for survival in this land of plenty today, know that we are thinking of them as we, in the words of Cindy Blackstock, a untiring champion for the rights of Indigenous children in Canada, says, ‘Let us resolve to make a difference by putting children first. If reconciliation does not live in the hearts of children, it does not exist at all.'”