Tiles painted by students from George Fitton School will be unveiled in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, slated to open in 2014.
The 38 grade 7 and 8 students painted the tiles to represent children who did not survive Canada’s Indian Residential School system.
"When I was in school I don’t remember learning about it at all. My mom would talk about it when we were growing up, but I didn’t really learn anything until maybe university — but really it was this project last year where I really started to understand," said Sherry Baker, the teacher who began the project at the school.
Project of Heart is a national educational resource initiative to educate children about the history and legacy of residential schools, hosted by the National Day of Healing and Reconcilation in Alberta. They provide free teaching materials, the blank wooden tiles, and a list of resources for each age group.
Baker decided to use the project as part of Finding My Way, an aboriginal culture, tradition, history and current affairs class offered as an elective.
"It was emotional. I was surprised at how many of the kids had never heard about residential schools. But later I thought, then again, my mom was there, and we never heard about it — she never really talked about it. I thought she had just gone to a private school or something."
Part of the project is to help students feel good about themselves, their culture and their history.
Baker said there had a come a point when talking about current affairs that some of the children would say sometimes I don’t like being aboriginal.
"And I know why they feel that way because I’ve felt that way. They might have seen something or read something that was negative about aboriginal people, and I think some of that comes from people not understanding this history — from understanding that these events created some of the struggles that we see today."
Residential schools had been operating under churches since before the Canadian Federation in 1867, and were run by the government beginning in the 1880s. Most schools were closed in the 1970s. The last school was closed in 1996.
"A lot of the kids thought that this happened forever ago, and I think that’s something a lot of people think."
This year the program was taught to a class of fourth graders and will be taught to students in fifth and sixth grades in January. Baker said it’s important for the younger generations to learn and pass on the knowledge, but it’s also important for adults to learn and be empathetic.
"What if your child was taken away and there was nothing you could do about it? And then this child comes back and that relationship is changed, or different, or non-existent anymore. How would is affect you or your family?" she said. "And what if it was done on a mass scale like it was then? I think if kids can learn it and show empathy and respect and that shift in thinking, then surely adults can do it too."
Baker will be presenting the project to the Brandon School Division Board of Trustees.
More information on Project of Heart, including some of the students’ tiles can be found at poh.jungle.ca/