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.
The program is free and for all ages. For more information, contact JennaTickell@hotmail.ca
‘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.
A wonderful story from yesterday’s Regina Leader-Post, with video featuring survivor Eugene Arcand and Charlene Bearhead from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
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!
(Repost from National Project of Heart site)
Article from Moose Jaw Express, July 18, 2013
Moose Jaw has been privileged in a special way. In a partnership between Prairie South School Division and the MJ Museum and Art Gallery, Moose Jaw was one of the first places in the country to host the exhibit “100 Years of Loss”, an exposition of the history and legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Most recently, Moose Jaw was one of four cities in Canada chosen to coordinate Project of Heart, a second venture related to residential schools. The other locations were Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa. In Saskatchewan, Project of Heart is about tiles and a drum. A First Nations drum was built by Jeff Cappo from the Lone Creek Drum Group. In the first phase of the project, students throughout the province were invited to decorate tiles to place on this drum. The tiles commemorate the children who died in the residential system. The tiled drum was unveiled at a Powwow in Moose Jaw on June 5th. Indian Residential Schools operated across the country from 1890 to 1996.
In 1920, the “Indian Act” made it mandatory for aboriginal parents to send their children to these institutions, and in 1931 enrollment was at its peak. Over the “100 Years of Loss”, approximately 85,000 children died in the system. Saskatchewan students have decorated 2000 commemorative tiles. Project of Heart was a national venture with local ramifications. Isabelle Hanson is president of the Wakamow Aboriginal Community Association and Vivian Gauvin is the vice-president. They were appointed to the Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Committee for the project. Gauvin is also First Nations, Métis and Inuit Consultant for the Prairie South School Division. Hanson and Gauvin coordinated the effort to collect the tiles from all over the province for placement on the drum. The wrap up for the project was at the end of June. Throughout this last year, Heather Miller taught a Native Studies Course at A. E. Peacock Collegiate. She had 26 students, and included in their program was intentional research on Indian Residential Schools. At the end of this course, four students were selected to make presentations before the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat in Regina. The Secretariat adjudicates cases of physical and sexual abuse within the residential system. Seven people made the trek to Regina: Isabelle Hanson and her daughter Leslie, Vivian Gauvin and the four students selected from the class at Peacock – Alia Baigent, McKayla MacQuarrie, Desire Meriam and Seth Schmaltz. Isabelle has a Master’s in Educational Psychology, and she is also a residential school survivor. She talked about how strict it was at the school she attended. “We all had a number and it was put on our clothing. We had to do things perfectly; we had to sleep a certain way; we were not allowed to be children. We were punished severely if we spoke Cree or practiced any of our customs. I had to go to church twice on weekdays and three times on Sunday. We were really Christianized. Even though I had boy cousins at the school, I wasn’t allowed to see them or speak to them.” Leslie, Isabelle’s daughter, talked about her desire to teach others about her culture, and to this end, she has just been accepted into the Saskatchewan Native Teachers Education Program at the Gabriel Dumont Institute. The fours students from Peacock said they were shocked when they learned about the cruelties of the residential system. They were ashamed that a country like Canada created and perpetuated this injustice. McKayla MacQuarrie said, “It is not a question of who is responsible for the past. It is about our responsibility for what happens next.” Alia Baigent always attended the same schools as her twin brother. She said, “I can’t imagine never being allowed to speak to him.” Two internet You Tubes were included in the Moose Jaw presentations. “Shannen’s Dream” has to do with the quality and equality of education on reserves, and this is the social justice piece of Project of Heart. The Wab Kinew Soap Box debunks aboriginal caricatures. Members of the Secretariat were moved by what they heard. Brad Kennedy, Hearings Manager Officer said, “I really appreciated the perspective of these young people.” Julia Rex said, “I can see the immportance of remembering and spreading the word.” Lorraine Lemiski is Manager of Adminsitration for the Secretariat, and she helped coordinate the Regina event. She commented on the experience. “What we have heard here reminds us of the importance of what we do.”