For the past two years, Roilui Sin, kindergarten and special education teacher at Bala Avenue Community School in Toronto, has been working on Project of Heart with her students by remembering the students of Bishop Horden Hall in northern Ontario. Students explored the reality of the Indian Residential School experience through literature, drama, and videos.
Sin explains, “My students were saddened and scared that this could possibly happen to a community, that children can be taken away from homes and grow up in an environment where they could not speak their language or learn from their families.” Sin also explained to her students that the problem didn’t go away when the schools closed. “We discussed that there is still much hurt and much reparation to be done for healing to begin.” Bala students lost no time. “After learning about the situation of the children in Attawapiskat– the over-crowded, poorly equipped, and unsanitary conditions of their school,” Sin states, “we followed up with letters to the government to demand responsibility and equitable treatment of First Nations children in Canada.” Read their letters here:
The action didn’t stop with the letter-writing. Bala students joined thousands of other young people across Canada on June 11th (day of the official apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools) to send their letters to the Prime Minister as part of their participation in the “Our Dreams Matter Too” walk. As a culmination to the Project and as a school-wide celebration, the school held a Pow Wow on June 21st (National Aboriginal Day) where resident Elder, Shannon Thunderbird smudged the tiles.
What has Project of Heart meant to Roilui Sin? “I feel as though one person can make a difference in the lives of many as I teach my students about the importance of recognizing everyone’s rights. The tiles are now the artifacts of this memory and I do hope to visit them one day at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Project of Heart has also demonstrated for me the potential for ALL students to learn through a social justice lens and to develop a voice and character beyond academics.”
Thank you to Elder Shannon Thunderbird, for your teachings and for your support of the Bala Avenue Community School’s children. Thank you to the students for your big hearts and big spirits. Thank you Roilui, the teacher who worked tirelessly for 2 years to insure that her students were able to participate to the fullest in this nation-wide endeavour. Congratulations to you all!