report by Stacey Dunning, Secondary Teacher, Bayside Secondary School, Belleville, Ontario
On May 24, 2019, approximately 80 students at Bayside Secondary School took part in the nationally recognized “Project of Heart”, an inquiry-based, hands-on project that reveals truth about the history and legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential Schoolsystem. Students painted wooden tiles to commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who died as a result of their experiences at the schools after being torn from their homes, many as young as 5 years old. The edges of each tile are painted black to represent the mourning of thousands of children who lost their lives because of the depredations of the IRS. Each tile projects a word or a symbol to demonstrate the learner’s heart-felt response to what they have learned and to act as a gesture of reconciliation to the families and communities to whom these children belonged.
Students from 6 English classes, plus a group of grade 12 students who took the NBE3C course last year, engaged in this artistic project with meaning and purpose, many feeling compelled to explain the significance of their tiles and paint more. The “Project of Heart” has definitely contributed to enriching the school culture at Bayside Secondary School. It has also helped us further understand the devastating impacts the Canadian government’s policy of forced assimilation was.
This hands on project has allowed students to become a part of the reconciliACTION process which calls Canadians to action, through social justice endeavours, to change our present and future history collectively. With over 500 tiles painted, this beautiful mosaic has formed the new tabletop in Bayside Secondary School’s parlour, a meeting place where people come together to solve problems and reconcile differences on a regular basis. Each year, students enrolled in the Indigenous Studies program will contribute to the tiles on the table until it is complete.
On May 31, 2019, students attended a presentation by Tanya Maracle-King, Odawa, Crane Clan and member of Wikwemkoong First Nation. Tanya is an intergenerational survivor of parents who attended Indian Residential Schools. She is a skilled presenter, well- versed in many areas involving First Nations people. Students took part in a smudging ceremony to begin the morning and had an opportunity to ask Tanya questions and hear her stories before presenting her with their tiles as a gesture of reconciliation.