“Painting the wooden tiles was an honour. I felt very good about being able to contribute towards the healing of so many wounds. I had always wanted to and with the lyrics of my favourite motivational song I was able to do so. ‘Keep holding on, just stay strong.’ Those words helped me through a lot of times in my life and I felt they could help those affected by residential schools.”
These are the words of Miranda Henderson, Grade 12 student at Queen Elizabeth District High School. Miranda and many other Grade 10 Native Studies students were lucky to be in Sylvia Davis’ classroom when they found an excellent way to commemorate both the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools as well as the ones who never made it back home.
Davis has more than just a passing interest in the Indian Residential Schools, which may be one of the reasons her students took Project of Heart so seriously. “Some of the students were familiar with the history of the Indian Residential Schools and some were not. As they learned more, the more compelled they felt to do something. This project was a great way for us to feel like there was something we could do.”
To that end, IRS survivor Ralph Johnson was invited to come to Q.E.D.H.S. and talk about his experiences with the students. He smudged the tiles and sang an honour song. Garnet Angeconeb , also an IRS survivor and author of Starting to Talk (published by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation) shared with the students some of the things that are being done today for survivors.
Davis states, “Garnet left the students with a challenge. Now that you know about Indian Residential Schools, what are you going to do about it?” She goes on to say that the truth of Canada’s history must be told in order to understand where we come from and to know where to go from here.
Sylvia Davis knows of that which she speaks. “Hearing Garnet’s stories was emotional for me because he is my uncle. He shared stories of how he and his sister were not able to see each other while at the school- the sister in his story is my mom,” says Davis. “Knowing that years ago it was illegal to smudge, offer tobacco, or drum and sing, it was special to be able to do all these things in our classroom. To offer tobacco to our guests as appreciation for their words and their stories was an honour.”
Davis concluded her talk with us by thanking Project of Heart for allowing her and the students of Queen Elizabeth to participate in the commemoration project, as well as for thinking of honouring the IRS students in this manner.
To Sylvia and the students, Project of Heart says, “We are so thankful that you were able to join us! Already you are taking up the challenge that Garnet put out to you. By signing the on-line petition for Shannen’s Dream as your social justice action, you are joining First Nations children across Canada in their challenge to the Government of Canada to treat them with the same dignity and respect that every other child in Canada has a right to. Congratulations!”