Nepean High School remembers Ermineskin and Lac La Biche residential schools

Report by Leigh Williamson, Outdoor Education Teacher, Nepean High School

A cross-section of engaged and enthusiastic  grade 10 students at Nepean High School in Ottawa undertook the Project of Heart this fall. Our Outdoor Education class started off by taking a broad look at racism, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination to lay the foundation.  We watched a brief NFB video called “For Angela”, which helped to differentiate between those terms and their meanings.

From there, we welcomed a volunteer from Project of Heart to join us and direct our focus on the development, process, and anticipated outcome of participating in the Project of Heart.  Here we matched discussion with a video to highlight the experiences of Indigenous peoples at Indian Residential Schools as seen from the perspectives of survivors and their families. The students were introduced to the two former Indian Residential schools in Alberta that we would be commemorating–Ermineskin and Lac La Biche.  They did some research into the area and brainstormed designs for their tiles.

As our social justice piece, some students created posters which fostered awareness of the lack of attention given to missing Indigenous women, some students researched and signed the “I am a Witness” campaign, and other students wrote letters to our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, asking crucial questions related to the treatment of Indigenous Peoples.

Next, we arranged for a guest survivor to come to our class to speak with us about his experience in Indian Residential School.  We read his biography and prepared questions to ask him during our special session. Chris came to visit our Period 3 Outdoor Education class on November 23rd and brought his guitar. He candidly answered questions posed by the students and staff alike and he played some of his original songs, one titled “Child of Innocence.”  What a special and moving experience!

Finally, our 466 tiles were completed and compiled for a photograph.  Ultimately, there were many moments when students were surprised, shocked, disgusted, and pushed to action, in spite of the challenge for some to fully grasp and relate to the severity and reality of the school environments that IRS survivors faced.

Thanks to Project of Heart for allowing us this opportunity.

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