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North Van elementary students honour residential school children
The effect of residential schools on First Nations people can be a difficult topic for adults to understand, and even more challenging to explain to young children.
But staff at Norgate elementary have found a way to gradually introduce the topic to students through an art project in cooperation with Reconciliation Canada, an organization that strives to revitalize relationships between aboriginal people and all Canadians.
Decorated with positive words like “Hope,” “Bravery,” and “Smile,” the students designed small wooden tiles that will be given to participants in the Walk for Reconciliation that takes place in downtown Vancouver on Sept. 22.
The tiles honour and commemorate children that were placed in residential schools throughout Canada, including St. Paul’s Indian Residential School that ran in North Van from 1889 to 1958. More than 2,000 students attended the school, mostly from the Squamish Nation.
Back then the students, who mainly lived at the residential school, were punished for using their language and made to feel shameful of their culture and traditions.
The students at Norgate elementary are learning about this history in a way that is sensitive to their young age, such as by decorating the tiles as gifts.
“Many of the First Nations people across the country have a tradition of gifting when we have our ceremonies,” explains Karen Joseph, executive director of Reconciliation Canada, whose father Chief Dr. Robert Joseph went to residential school in Alert Bay, off of northern Vancouver Island.
“The purpose of the gifting within those ceremonies is not in the grandiosity of the people who are gifting but it’s actually in the accepting of the gift, that they understood the work, that they support the messages and intentions of what was going on during the ceremonies.
“It’s also payment for them to carry that message forward.”
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unique, says Joseph, because it’s court mandated and overseen and addresses human rights violations of children.
“The tiles for us, having them made my children, is a reminder of what we’re talking about here,” she adds.
Her daughter Sadie Rivers, who is in Grade 2 at Norgate, took part in making the tiles and will be giving them out during the Walk for Reconciliation, which is expected to draw 50,000 participants along the route from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to Science World.
“By accepting the tiles, they make a promise to make the world better,” says Norgate’s principal Lisa Upton, who explained the project to students at an assembly where First Nations leaders encouraged students to get up and dance along to singing and drumming.