We are a family of four, including two children aged 14 and 12, and in August 2008 we set out from Ottawa on a year-long round-the-world back packing adventure. Before leaving, we decided to participate in Project of Heart. We received the wooden tiles and agreed to keep in contact with the Project of Heart team in Ottawa.
POH would send us, via email, several names of children who had died while attending Indian Residential Schools in Canada and we would choose an appropriate location in the world to dedicate and decorate these blocks in those children’s memory.
Days before embarking on our trip we met with local Indigenous teacher and cultural worker, grandmother Greta Neepin who cleansed the commemorative wooden tiles by performing a smudging ceremony. Grandmother Greta welcomed us into a journey which would see us safely through many experiences.
At several locations on our travels we took out the blocks and introduced the story of Indian Residential Schools in Canada to other world travelers. At an Indigenous Akha village in northern Thailand overlooking a beautiful valley we explained to others the tragedy of tens of thousands of Indigenous children losing their lives as a result of the Indian Residential School experience. In the City of Udaipur, Rajasthan we met Sophie Staughten, an Australian woman doing research with local Indigenous people there. She was shocked at learning about the number of Indigenous children in Canada dying while in the “care” of the Residential School administrators.
• Maisie Shaw, 14 years old, died at Port Alberni Residential School.
• Albert Gray, died at Ahousat Residential School.
• Maggie Seward, only 6 years old, died at Kuper Island Residential School.
• Carolyn Joseph, died at Kuper Island Residential School.
These are just four names of the young people who died in the Indian Residential Schools, the names that we traveled with.
In northern Argentina there is a beautiful little town close to where that country meets with Paraguay and Brazil.
The town is named Puerto Iguazú, named for its location near the amazing Iguazú waterfalls, and it was in it that we decided to dedicate and decorate our Project of Heart wooden tiles to honour the above mentioned children.
“What would we put on the tiles?” we asked ourselves. We had been carrying them for almost eleven months. They had covered the distance of 40,000 kilometers, once around the globe. They had entered and left sixteen different countries and they needed the correct decoration to suit our long “lost” Indian Residential School children.
The Guarani people are the Indigenous people of the Iguazu area, and we decided to explore the town to discover art from which we could gain inspiration. We found Guarani designs on belts, purses, and beautiful fabrics. Spurred on by this rich legacy, we knew we finally had a visual language with which to decorate our much-travelled tiles.
We hope our story and photographs do justice to these children, children who had families and were loved by their communities–children who died because of inhumane treatment at the hands of the church officials with funding provided by the Canadian government, my (our) government.
Our thanks go to Sylvia Smith for providing us with the information, and the opportunity to participate in Project of Heart, and also to Greta Neepin for helping keep us safe during our long journey.