This book extracts, reorganizes, and compiles the school-specific Saskatchewan elements of the NCTR reports and primary school documents as well as incorporating other resources and former student accounts that have been recorded and published online. It is an informative and accessible resource for teaching and learning about Indian residential schools in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology ran with Project of Heart — and their running partner was…. a class of elementary students at Lady Evelyn Alternative School in Ottawa! How did that happen?
SIIT is located on the Asimakaniseekan Askiy Reserve in Saskatoon and Kathleen Worm is their Manager in Workforce Development. Kathleen hosted Project of Heart for over 90 IRS Support Workers gathered in Saskatoon for a conference. What was unique about this Project of Heart workshop is the way in which the participants were supported in carrying out the social justice action.
Help came from a class of Grade 3 and 4 students in Ottawa who are part of their Shannen’s Dream Club. These students made 91 beautiful post-cards, all decorated to depict their vision of what reconciliation for First Nations children on reserves in Canada would look like. The backs of the post-cards are labelled with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address. The Support Workers did the rest of the work – writing what they want the Prime Minister to do to address the inequities: namely, to implement the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s orders to fund First Nations children on and off reserve equitably to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
The POH workshop participants in Saskatoon were able to skype in to Ms. Fontaine’s class to thank the children for their solidarity with Indigenous children. They made a heart-felt connection with the 8, 9, and 10 year olds that partnered with them in their social justice action!
Here’s what Kathleen had to report about their Project of Heart experience with the kids:
Danielle Fontaine’s Grade 3 and 4 class in Ottawa ON learn about more than the abc’s of education; they learn the abc’s of Canada’s history and the abc’s of compassionate humanism.
Danielle has been incorporating First Nations issues in the classroom for over 6 years now and the result is nothing short of loving. Teaching compassion first, Danielle’s students then learn to empathize with the current peril of First Nations children across Canada.
Shannen’s Dream, a powerful show of advocacy by a young First Nation girl wanting a school for her community was one of the stories that the students learned of. In a show of support and activism, the 8, 9 and 10 year olds designed post cards with messages and images reflecting their mind and heart on the issue of First Nation children’s educational rights. These postcards are all addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Saskatchewan Resolution Health Support Workforce, the emotional and cultural supports offered to survivors going through their independent claims and hearings, gather twice a year for professional development. This past gathering in January had approximately 90 of the post cards designed by Ms Fontaine’s class. Using these postcards, messages were sent to the Prime Minister on many issues surrounding First Nations people.
To further strengthen the impact and the shared understanding, the RHSW Gathering skyped into the Grade 3 & 4 classroom in Ottawa. The excitement and joy was palpable. The opportunity to let those children see the impact of their own efforts and for the aging group of survivors to see hope for the future as young ones are taught the truth and are willing to fight for what’s right.
Thank you Kathleen and all the IRS Survivors who met their supporters for doing Project of Heart and sharing themselves with their young fans in Ottawa. The Government will continue to be challenged as long as Canada has youth who are passionate about fair play. Their message is clear.
Growing up across the river from the Cowessess Indian Residential School, Selma Marion was always jealous of the students there. The kids would always wear nice outfits, Marion thought. They would attend church together in a big group.
“I always thought they had it good. Little did I know,” she said.
Marion later worked at Service Canada and was involved in registering residential school survivors for financial compensation. The veil was lifted. Marion began to learn what really happened across the river — abuse, loss of language, neglect, removal from their families.
She found herself wanting to know more. It led her to sign up for Project of Heart.
Project of Heart is national program, now its second year being offered at the University of Regina, about the history of the residential school system in Canada.
“People learn together about the Indian residential school system. And they teach each other about that and then we commemorate the children and the people that went to those schools,” said Jenna Tickell, facilitator of Project of Hope.
The group meets biweekly for seven weeks on Saturdays in a Luther College classroom on the U of R campus. The program isn’t lecture-based; instead, participants complete their own research and then come back and teach their classmates what they’ve learned.
“I do have a presentation at the end of that where I teach them about the specifics that I’m sure they’ve already touched on,” Tickell said.
Project of Heart was founded by Sylvia Smith while she was completing her university master’s degree. The idea behind it is to use an artistic approach to commemorate the people and families who were, or still are, affected by the residential school system in Canada.
Tickell attended a guest lecture featuring Smith and heard about the program. Tickell herself wrote her undergraduate honours paper on the need for indigenous education to be introduced at an elementary school level.
“I just saw the value in (Project of Hope) and there’s so many people that I know, my own age, older than me, that never got the education. So I want to reach as broad as I can to try and engage those learners and break that awareness,” she said.
The program has each class learning about the history of a local residential school. Each participant then learns about a specific child who died while attending the school. The class also decides on an activism in which to participate throughout the course.
Tickell doesn’t give the students ideas of what to do. They come up with it themselves. Last year the class became involved in a push for the municipal heritage designation of the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery. This year the group will once again learn about the Regina Indian Industrial School, though their specific activism has not been decided on yet.
‘What needs to be happening;’ residential school cemetery gets heritage status
Published on: October 3, 2016 | Last Updated: October 3, 2016 7:31 AM CST
REGINA — Along a dusty gravel road on the edge of Regina is a small plot of land surrounded by a rail fence with peeling white paint, weathered teddy bears, flowers and a couple of dream catchers.
There’s just one headstone in the 680-square-metre cemetery for the two children of Rev. A.J. McLeod, the first principal of the Regina Indian Industrial School, belying that dozens of indigenous children from the school are buried there too.
“It’s easy to overlook the cemetery itself. Even when I first came out here, we drove right by,” said Janine Windolph, president of the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association.
“The site needs to take another step further in basically acknowledging the students that are here and how we can start making it more apparent that this is a scared site for gathering. That’ll all come in time.”
A big step came Sept. 26, when Regina city council voted unanimously to grant the site municipal heritage status. Civic administrators suggested the move after a 2014 land survey found there were potentially 22 to 40 unmarked graves of children in the cemetery.
Windolph said an archeologist for the association identified 36 anomalies, but she said there could be many more children because it was practice at the time to bury several together.
Sakimay First Nations Chief Lynn Acoose, whose grandmother attended the Regina Indian Industrial School, said the heritage designation process has been emotional.
“It’s not only about preserving the memory. It’s not only about preserving the site and the graves. We need to also, from this tragedy, create something powerful and good out of the loss of these children,” said Acoose.
The Regina Indian Industrial School operated between 1891 and 1910. An unknown number of students died there.
Justice Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has estimated at least 6,000 children died at residential schools but it’s impossible to say with certainty.
The federal government stopped recording the deaths around 1920 after the chief medical officer at Indian Affairs suggested children were dying at an alarming rate.
Residential schools were often crowded, poorly ventilated and unsanitary. Children died from smallpox, measles, influenza and tuberculosis. Some were buried in unmarked graves in school cemeteries, while others were listed as “missing” or “discharged.” In some cases, parents never found out what happened.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s offices are now closed and the work has been transferred to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
Centre director Ry Moran said the designation in Regina “is just exactly what needs to be happening.”
“It means that one city in particular has really stepped up and honoured the children that are buried in that cemetery,” said Moran.
“And sadly, across this country, there are many, many, many other locations exactly like the one in Regina. So the fact that we’re seeing the city designate this site as a commemorative site, really I think can help encourage other cities and other jurisdictions to take a real hard look at this work that needs to happen across the country.”
Moran said preliminary estimates suggest there could be around 400 burial sites across the country directly associated with a residential school or where residential school children are likely were buried.
He said the centre recently looked at the cemetery associated with the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont.
“That’s a really good example of a site where we know there’s kids buried there, but it’s heavily overgrown,” said Moran.
“We know that there’s graves likely outside of the cemetery as well, and that’s just one of many examples of a cemetery that’s really been forgotten and a critical part of our history being ignored and disrespected, truthfully.”
The work is not done for Windolph. She would also like to see the Regina cemetery get provincial heritage designation.
She said it marks a pivotal point in history — the time where cultural and identity loss began.
“And so, in order to start our healing journey, we have to go back to that point where this happened. We have to make good out of our past and simply acknowledge it is the beginning of that journey.”
Teaching about the Residential School Era is still not a mandatory part of the Saskatchewan K-12 curriculum but thanks to the events of the day, 1500 students and teachers went home having experienced a crash course on Canada’s hidden history. The Faculty of Education at the University of Regina organized the day’s events and Project of Heart was also on the program; students decorated tiles as witness pieces.
Our thanks go out to Dean of Education Jennifer Tupper for taking the lead in organization a superb Education Day!
Walker Elementary School (Regina, SK) students of Christina Johns decorated tiles last year as their gestures of reconciliation. These were made into jewelry by Teachers for Justice, and are being sold to support the Justice for Indigenous Women campaign.
Gabriel Dumont Institute visual arts instructor Christina Johns of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) had her pre-service teachers complete the tile decoration component of the POH module during the fall term of 2008.
The SUNTEP students brought extremely compelling imagery to the exercise which commemorated the students who died at the Lebret Indian Residential School at Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Click on the adjacent photo to see more examples of her class’s work.
Russell Fayant of the SUNTEP program and Christina herself have also responded through verse to the ongoing colonial project of cultural extinction, as experienced by their Métis community. Christina’s poem can be read here and Russell’s here.
Project of Heart Brings Hope, Humility, and Healing to SUNTEP
By Christina Johns, 2012
Armed with Sharpie markers, small wooden tiles, a legacy to honour, and the “heart” to make a difference, SUNTEP Regina students went to work to preserve and reclaim the memory of the many Métis and First Nations children who attended and lost their lives in residential schools. All SUNTEP students participated in the artistic social justice project entitled Project of Heart over the past 2 semesters.
Project Coordinator Sylvia Smith, a high school teacher from Ottawa, describes Project of Heart (P.O.H.) as a “hands-on, collaborative, inter-generational, inter-institutional artistic endeavour. Its purpose is to commemorate the lives of the thousands of Indigenous children who died as a result of the residential school experience.” After learning about the truths of Indian residential schools in Social Studies class, Sylvia Smith’s students wanted to do more to bring greater public awareness to the large number of deaths that had occurred in residential schools across Canada. Along with their teacher’s help, they developed a social justice project that is now growing in recognition and has recently been awarded the Govenor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
A key objective of P.O.H. is to encourage “ownership” of this historic injustice by the non-Indigenous community. By doing so, non-Aboriginal Canadians can then be moved to take responsibility for the continued oppression of Indigenous people in Canada, and be inspired to take action. Smith also explains that the project “commemorates the families and communities to whom those children belonged. It is designed to bring awareness both to the settler community of predominantly European Canadians and communities of new Canadians from other parts of the world.” Many students of all ages, all across Canada have been involved in the project, by decorating tiles, doing research, visiting with Elders and becoming more aware of the effects of residential schools on generations of Indigenous people.
Project of Heart also seeks to expand the opportunities available for the wisdom of Aboriginal Elders to be heard within mainstream, educational/religious institutions. By joining with other groups who are making a space for Indigenous knowledge, institutions can help to change attitudes and behaviours—hearts and minds—as Elders give voice to the traditions that were suppressed by residential schooling.
During their involvement in this unique social justice project, SUNTEP students shared stories of people and relatives they knew who attended the residential school. Some were stories of pain, some were stories of relationships that developed while in residential school and some were humorous anecdotes passed down from grandparents and great-grandparents. Through the sharing of stories, we gathered together as students, teachers, artists, and activists to remember the forgotten and piece together this influential, yet poignant part of Canadian history. Being able to talk about the residential school experience has been painful to some students, but in some ways it started a healing process aided by research, the sharing of the experience with family members, the smudging of the tiles and visits with an Elder/residential school survivor.
On this journey for understanding through heart and spirit, SUNTEP students decorated 10-12 tiles each (400 in total), with imagery, words and symbols created in memoriam to the Aboriginal culture, language, and self-esteem stripped away by assimilation and racism embodied at residential schools. Through their art, SUNTEP commemorated Ile-a-la-Crosse, a Northern Saskatchewan community with a high Métis population. As evidence of the project’s lasting impact, as the social justice activism component of the project, SUNTEP students have developed lesson and unit plans to use in their field placements so Project of Heart will continue to be shared and honoured.
The project’s goal is to have 50,000 decorated tiles, each one representing a life lost in the many residential schools across Canada. Although the future and final resting place of the tiles is still uncertain, there is a possibility of an installation of the tiles as a part of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. This is only a small gesture of reconciliation for the past and continued
oppression of Aboriginal people in Canada.
Art has the power to bring together people from all ages and all walks of life. It can bring about awareness and understanding, promote critical thinking and can also work towards healing. Drawing on tiles will, of course, never erase the horrors of residential schools or reverse the damage done to families and communities, but it can bring about hope; hope that we can someday eradicate the perils of hatred, racism, and ethnocentrism. Sylvia and her students had the vision to bridge the emotional and spiritual power of art to bring about healing to communities who are still in crisis despite governmental “apologies.” This art project is a demonstration of the resiliency of Aboriginal people and their resistance to the cultural collision between Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and European colonizers. We are still valiantly fighting to reverse the devastating impact that years of oppression has had on Canada’s Aboriginal cultures and traditions. We hope that the inter-generational damage will not be forgotten but used as a reminder that this cultural genocide must never happen again!
You can check out the SUNTEP Regina’s tiles and more about the program at http://projectofheart.ca.