University of Regina’s SUNTEP partners with Project of Heart for 2nd time; honours Metis students who died at Isle-a-la-Crosse IRS


Following up on her first project in 2009, art teacher Christina Johns recently introduced a second group of students at the Gabriel Dumont Institute (Regina Campus) to Project of Heart. The following is a write-up taken from Education News (Fall 2011 and Winter 2012), and written by Christina.

“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 Metis 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.

“During their involvement in this unicque 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 smuding 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, works, and symbols created in memory of 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 Metis 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.

“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 some day eradicate the perils of hatred, racism, and ethnocentrism.  The creators of the Project had the vision to bridge the emotional and spiritual power of art to bring about healing to communities who are still in crisis despite government “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 have 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!”

Project of Heart thanks Christina Johns for her long-time support and will never forget her contributions to honour her people and their lived experiences.

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