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
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.
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→
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!
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.
Photoset: All ages come together for J4IW at University of Regina’s Luther College
(Editor’s note: this article is cross-posted from J4Iw.ca)
University of Regina graduate student Jenna Tickell has a history with working for justice;
in fact, she’s the person the Regina Industrial Indian School (RIIS) Commemoration Association approached when they were garnering support to pressure Regina City Council to grant Municipal Heritage Rights for the RIIS. Once Project of Heart created the change.org petition with the assistance of David Owens, class member, there was no turning back.
Recently, with the support of her Masters Supervisor Dr. Brenda Anderson, Tickell organized a gathering of Regina community members ages 7 to 70 who volunteered to participate in a workshop held at Luther College at The University of Regina called “Justice for Indigenous Women.”
It’s hard to think of a more appropriate title for a publication. With the work of reconciliation picking up pace across the country, this hard-hitting, truth-telling teacher resource makes it clear that Saskatchewan’s tragic IRS experience will not be left out of the narrative.
Published by University of Regina’s Faculty of Education, Saskatchewan’s Project of Heart has been working up to this moment for almost two years.
Publications Manager Shuana Niessen had this to say:
“Researching and writing this ebook has been the most meaningful work in my career.
Pulling together school-specific information from primary source documents, news clippings, research, and the NCTR reports along with listening to survivor/thriver stories have all contributed to a greater understanding of the complex issues around the history of Indian residential schools in Saskatchewan. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to learn and I hope that others will find Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan an informative and accessible ebook from which to learn and teach about Indian residential schools in Saskatchewan.”
On behalf of Project of Heart (National) we want to throw out a huge meegwetch to Shuana and the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education for the sustained commitment that was undertaken to create this excellent resource.
May we NEVER attempt to whitewash our collective history again.
Today and tomorrow (August 14 & 15), Canadian officials appear before a UN committee and must explain why they are actively resisting four orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that require them to stop discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children. It was over one and a half years ago that the Tribunal concluded that Canada was guilty of racial discrimination by not funding First Nations children on and off reserves, and it has since made three more rulings ordering Canada to comply.