Over the course of the last few years, the students and staff of Westmount Public School have been on a journey of reconciliation. We have looked at literary resources like “I Am Not a Number,” “Secret Path,” “Fatty Legs” and “Stolen Words” and invited in speakers to share with our students the tragic history of residential schools. From the beginning, it was a journey that we knew would be difficult, but one that was worth us taking. Our students have had the opportunity to hear about the tremendous suffering and unfairness that children and families faced when they were taken from their families and sent to Indian Residential Schools and the impact that is still with us today. They were astonished to hear that we had a residential school in Thunder Bay and in fact it was just down the road from our own school. After hearing about the history, the reactions from students were full of emotions. Many students were able to consider how they would feel if taken away from their families and the long-reaching impact it would have on themselves, their families and their community as a whole. In wanting to honour those who were forced to attend the schools we decided to construct a whole-school mural with all students creating a single small tile to show their learning and to raise awareness of Indian Residential Schools.
While residential schools are no more, the racism that brought the children into the schools is, unfortunately still being practiced. As educators we have the opportunity to expose children and youth to the past and allow them to take action to make our future brighter. As a school, we created a mural with the Sleeping Giant as the backdrop as a way to highlight the spirit of truth-telling and relationship building. We have long been known as “the city with a giant heart” and we hope that this permanent physical reminder can serve our school community as the first step in our collective and individual journeys for reconciliation. We continue to follow the path to reconciliation at Westmount and have written letters to our Prime Minister to show our support in First Nations children having the right to good homes, good educations and pride in their culture.
Special thanks to Tricia Logan formerly of the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation who began this journey with us three years ago. Thanks also to Elder Gerry Martin and Elder Felicia Waboose for sharing their histories with us.
-Jaime Murdoch, Grade 6 Teacher
-Laura Bizjak, Grade 7/8 Teacher
Westmount Public School
Thunder Bay, Ontario