In April 2011 Ottawa teacher Alanna Bell and students in her Native Studies class from Notre Dame High School participated in Project of Heart. Eighteen students decorated 450 tiles, half the current student population of Notre Dame, the percentage of students that would have perished if Notre Dame would have been Round Lake Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan at the height of the assimilation period. It is the students of this IRS that students commemorated in their first gesture of reconciliation to the survivors and their families. Here’s how Alanna describes what happened:
Prior to this project, Notre Dame students were not aware of the either the residential school system, or the impact that the schools had, and are still having, on Aboriginal peoples and their communities. The students were excited to decorate the tiles and pay respect to all these young people who had lost their lives.
As part of the social justice action component of the project, Notre Dame students took to the streets and joined the lead of Lady Evelyn Alternative School by participating in Shannen’s Dream Day of Action on Parliament Hill. Each participant wrote a letter to their local Member of Parliament, expressing their deep concerns for First Nations children across Canada. Their message was loud and clear…”safe and comfy schools, equitable education, for ALL Canadian students”.
As a culminating activity, Bell’s class welcomed Christopher Herodier Snowboy. “It was an emotional re-telling of many of the difficult and painful events he endured at the school.” Chris’s sang “Child of Innocence”, a reflection of his own experiences while at St. Phillip’s IRS on James Bay.
Reflecting on the day, Bell concluded “Project of Heart was a touching, educational experience for all my students. They knew they were participating in something so much bigger than themselves. When it was over, they also knew, in a way that books couldn’t portray, the impact of the IRS system on so many lives.”
Congratulations Notre Dame High School!