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Sherwood Park turns vision into reality

Big Project of Heart thanks go out to Courtney Richard, music teacher at Westboro Elementary School in Sherwood Park, Alberta, for this excellent report!

Our journey with Project of Heart has left us feeling excited, grateful, wondering…what is the word to describe a project like this? It is a project of truth. It is a project of reconciliation. We have learned, we have grown, we have been inspired; we took our time to ensure that we put our very best effort into a project that meant so much.

It started with a full day teacher professional development session with Charlene Bearhead. I, the music teacher for Westboro Elementary, attended this meeting to learn about incorporating more Indigenous teachings and ways of knowing into our classrooms. Charlene showed a video of a song that students at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary had created with N’we Jinan artists called “Important to Us.” She also shared Project of Heart. It was the first time I had heard of this project and I knew that I had been called to action and that we, as a school body, needed to do something.

The following year we began intentionally working with our students to teach about residential schools. What were they? Why did they exist? How were Indigenous peoples affected? How has our Canadian society been impacted as a result of these schools? We, both staff and parents, learned alongside the children. Our students saw the injustices that had occurred, but also saw that one step in moving forward is for all of us to come together to stand as one. And so began our Project of Heart. Not through tiles, or through video, but through song.

We began our process brainstorming with Elder Wilson Bearhead what message we wanted for our song. It was our students’ talent, hard work, and creativity that took our vision and turned it into reality. Our song speaks of the past, the present, and the future. It encourages all cultures to come together to “Stand As One.” I am so proud of what our students were able to achieve. We hope that it inspires others to recognize no matter what age they are, we all have a voice and we all can make a difference in our country’s road to reconciliation. Our song and accompanying music video can be seen above this post.

It took a full school year to complete steps 1-3 of Project of Heart, but we made sure the following school year that we would fulfill all components of this project. It is true that we must apply what we have learned. Our project was a learning journey in and of itself, but what we do with this project extends the learning and takes it to a higher level. We listened to Rev. Mary Battaja’s survivor story (http://wherearethechildren.ca/en/stories/#story_2) and are grateful to Where Are The Children for filming so many stories that we can learn from. We chose to use the project we created as our social justice action. How can we continue to share our message? How can we take action by sharing our song through many different avenues so the message does not become lost or forgotten? We: posted it to our school website, shared on our district website, shared with friends and family, invited media to attend its release, shared with other teachers across the province, and promoted its use at conferences. Our job has not ended and in the years to come we hope to continue to work towards sharing our message of strength in unity. In doing so, it is our hope that it may spark a few others to do the same. Maybe one day we will all be able to look back at our past and see that we all did come together to Stand. As. One.

A cold night full of warm hearts

Tile mosaic, Rossbrook House “No Child Alone” Dinner
Project of Heart would like to thank Brenda Hasiuk from Rossbrook House in Winnipeg for this report from 18 months ago. It does indeed warm our hearts, reminding us of the energy and commitment people shared together  when such gatherings were still possible.We can’t wait for POH to be part of such gatherings again!

On January 24, 2019, Over  500 Winnipeggers gathered for the 2nd annual “No Child Alone Dinner” in support of Rossbrook House, a 24-7 drop-in centre for inner city children and youth.

Keynote speaker Niigaan Sinclair shared his thoughts on our city’s journey toward reconciliation and everyone in attendance took home a magnetized “Project of Heart” tile to remind them of the night and what they learned. Each tile was created by a Rossbrook House participant expressing what reconciliation meant to them.

Maple Creek Public School has a reconciliation gem for teachers

Early this year, Maple Creek Public School (Maple, ON), pulled out all the stops and participated in a Project of Heart learning piece that we couldn’t be more proud of. If you’re a teacher scrolling through this post, you will find the report on Maple Creek’s learning journey a valuable learning resource as a case is made for why it was important for Maple Creek Public to do Project of Heart, then states how they did it and the preparation that was involved. It concludes with a description of their collaborative, school-wide mural display “Bricks of Belonging”, but not before explaining how and what they fund-raised for…’Geronimo Henry’s Dream’. Teacher Heather Naftolin-brandes concludes her school’s report thusly:

“This Bricks of Belonging art piece represents Maple Creek Public Schools’ commitment to reconciliation in Canada. It was a school wide initiative that acknowledges the horrifying and
traumatic effects of the Residential School system on Indigenous Peoples and was created by sharing and learning the truth about our collective history.

As a school, we continue to educate ourselves about the long lasting impact of these schools and are dedicated to learning about Indigenous Peoples both past and present through building relationships. Encouraging children to feel proud and comfortable with their identities is integral to their well being and school is a place where we strongly believe they must feel they belong.”

A heart-felt thank you to Maple Creek Public School in the York Region District School Board for your ongoing contributions to building relationships within your classrooms and beyond. Chi meegwetch.

Westmount Public in Thunder Bay shows its love on Valentine’s Day

Westmount Valentine's

Students from Westmount Public School continue their reconciliation journey by bringing candy grams and a message of solidarity to Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) on the most loving day of the year, Valentine’s Day. They also delivered a $1,000.00 cheque along with the candygrams to top off the day! Thunder Bay Newswatch has a great article about this event and the other excellent reconciliation initiatives that are going on within the Thunder Bay District School Board.

The young advocates have written some amazing letters as part of The Caring Society’s Have a Heart Day that hundreds of schools across Canada participate in to pressure the Government of Canada to stop discriminating against First Nations students. Beware Canada. The students of Dennis Franklin Cromarty have vocal allies and they are tired of our leaders not carrying out their responsibilities!

Thank you Westmount Public for showing your love on Valentine’s Day. Project of Heart dittoes what your teacher, Jaime Murdoch says, “We are very proud of the interest and the commitment from our students. Makes you feel like you can make a difference.” And you are. Chi meegwetch!

Iconic Lakehead symbol reimagined for reconciliation: Westmount students create beautiful commemoration

Over the course of the last few years, the students and staff of Westmount Public School have been on a journey of reconciliation. We have looked at literary resources like “I Am Not a Number,” “Secret Path,” “Fatty Legs” and “Stolen Words” and invited in speakers to share with our students the tragic history of residential schools. From the beginning, it was a journey that we knew would be difficult, but one that was worth us taking. Our students have had the opportunity to hear about the tremendous suffering and unfairness that children and families faced when they were taken from their families and sent to Indian Residential Schools and the impact that is still with us today. They were astonished to hear that we had a residential school in Thunder Bay and in fact it was just down the road from our own school. After hearing about the history, the reactions from students were full of emotions. Many students were able to consider how they would feel if taken away from their families and the long-reaching impact it would have on themselves, their families and their community as a whole. In wanting to honour those who were forced to attend the schools we decided to construct a whole-school mural with all students creating a single small tile to show their learning and to raise awareness of Indian Residential Schools.

While residential schools are no more, the racism that brought the children into the schools is, unfortunately still being practiced. As educators we have the opportunity to expose children and youth to the past and allow them to take action to make our future brighter. As a school, we created a mural with the Sleeping Giant as the backdrop as a way to highlight the spirit of truth-telling and relationship building. We have long been known as “the city with a giant heart” and we hope that this permanent physical reminder can serve our school community as the first step in our collective and individual journeys for reconciliation. We continue to follow the path to reconciliation at Westmount and have written letters to our Prime Minister to show our support in First Nations children having the right to good homes, good educations and pride in their culture.

Special thanks to Tricia Logan formerly of the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation who began this journey with us three years ago. Thanks also to Elder Gerry Martin and Elder Felicia Waboose for sharing their histories with us.

-Jaime Murdoch, Grade 6 Teacher
-Laura Bizjak, Grade 7/8 Teacher
Westmount Public School
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Editor’s note: the Westmount partnership with Project of Heart picked up some excellent news media coverage; the local CBC story is here and Newswatch.com has the story here.

Project of Heart leads to Reconcili-ACTION at Bayside Secondary School

Finished tiles

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.

Bayside students

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.

Tile table

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.

The reconciliation plaques of Beechwood Cemetery

Bust of Nicholas Flood Davin in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery

 

A steadily growing initiative can be observed taking root in public spaces across Canada since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its report in 2015. It’s a collection of local campaigns that seek to address the way Canadians think about their collective history in the light of what we now understand to be a century-long attempt by Canada to carry out cultural genocide on Indigenous peoples; this period is now known as the Indian Residential School (IRS) era. Continue reading The reconciliation plaques of Beechwood Cemetery

Teacher reflections from Blackfoot country

 

It is said that good things come in threes but sometimes twos are even better. This week a pair of powerful teacher reports reached us  through the EdCan network, both from Stavely Elementary School in Southern Alberta, on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot Confederacy.

The first is from teacher Julaine Guitton,  and her intro sets the stage for what was about to happen in her classroom:

On the morning of September 30, 2016 I wore an orange shirt to school. I had received an e-mail about Orange Shirt Day, including a short video, and I decided to wear orange and talk to my students about residential schools and reconciliation during our Social Studies time. I showed them the video, and the looks on their faces told me that they had questions. They asked me things like, “Is this for real?” and “Did this really happen in Canada?” ..

Click on her reflection below to see what happened next!

Our Journey Into Reconciliation

 

The second report is by Ira Provost, an Indigenous  educator who is the Program Coordinator or Administrator of First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) Education Programs for the Southern Alberta school district.

If you are an educator looking to tell your administration or school board about the benefits of Project of Heart, Ira’s reflections make a powerful case.  First he sets out the problem:

Meaningful engagement with the Indigenous community means taking the time to develop a relationship and nurturing that relationship for mutually beneficial success.

According to many anecdotal comments from the local Indigenous parents I’ve heard from over the years in schools, and from being a parent myself, school personnel do not take enough time to get to know the Indigenous community.

And after Ira had witnessed the POH exercise:

“I was greatly impressed and, like the other invited FNMI guests, was blown away by what was presented and what we had heard!

Below is Ira Provost’s compelling report in his own words.

Stavely Elementary School’s Project of Heart

POH honoured to be part of Connaught Public School’s Evening for Reconciliation

On February 13th, Ottawa teachers Kim Bruton and Amanda Anderson presented Project of Heart at Connaught Public School’s Evening Towards Reconciliation. The event was put on by the school and parent council to continue a dialogue regarding Indigenous culture and history. The first part of the programme included a dinner, and keynote addresses by Peter Garrow and the Caring Society’s Daxton Reid. Continue reading POH honoured to be part of Connaught Public School’s Evening for Reconciliation