The Project of Heart Transcript

Imagine that you are five years old. A stranger comes to your home village and seizes you from your mother's arms.

Imagine he takes you hundreds of miles away to a place where white people in black robes cut off your hair and take away your clothes, the ones your mother made especially for you. They also take away your name and you get a number instead. They separate you from your brothers and sisters and forbid you to speak to one another in your native language.

Imagine being silenced with the shouts.

Imagine toiling in field and kitchen yet going hungry all the time.

Imagine being hit or strapped for breaking rules you don't know or understand.

Imagine learning that your family traditions and culture are evil and barbaric while the Christian God is the only one true creator. The god of love.

Imagine a heavy hand on your shoulder pulling you away from the dormitory in the night.

Imagine you're sick, feverish, and alone, other children also coughing, gasping. Some are dying and you know it even though they tried to cover it up.

Imagine running away from it all, desperate to be safe and loved back home. Imagine being hunted and caught then returned to even harsher punishments.

Now, imagine you're a parent, your child stolen from your embrace and taken to the same cruel place you knew as a child. You could face a jail sentence if you don't obey their laws and say your child must go and learn the European ways. If you resist, your child will be taken anyway. You worry that your child will reject your teachings and your traditional way of life, but, most of all, you fear that your child will endure the same abuse you did. The fact you are powerless to prevent that abuse torments you even more.

Imagine the unthinkable. Your child died, far away without you there for comfort.

Imagine your child is buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown place.

Imagine they don't even tell you that your beloved child won't ever be coming home, let alone where their final resting place is.

Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson has challenged Canadians to try to feel the anguish of the hundred and fifty thousand Aboriginal children taken from their parents, sometimes forever.

Think of that.

Bear that.

Imagine that.

The BC Teachers Federation has been honoured and committed to working together with many partner groups potentially and nationally to advance reconciliation.

Project of Heart: Illuminating the Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools is one of our recent publications. It is also an ebook, currently shown on the screen and it has also been added to your packages.

"Imagine," the piece you just heard, is the introduction we've used as the opening to our book as we believe it will be through strong emotional connections that we will continue to change hearts and minds and this will be essential for educators and education moving forward.

Project of Heart is about educating students, parents, teachers, and impact all Canadians of Canada's once hidden history: the legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

It was founded in 2007 by Sylvia Smith, an Ottawa teacher who was outraged to discover that there were only 64 words pertaining to residential schools in her students' textbooks.

Determined to gain a more accurate understanding and perspective of Canada's true history, Sylvia and her students took it upon themselves to delve deeply into the true history of residential schools, resulting in the amazing resources for teachers through Project of Heart.

Connecting with and listening to residential school survivors is central to Project of Heart and during the last few years hundreds of schools, thousands of students, teachers, and parents have been engaged in Project of Heart and survivors who have been so courageous to share their stories.

In Grand Chief Edward John's words: "we all collectively owe a deep sense of thanks and respect to all of the courageous survivors whose dignity was put on public display and who were ridiculed for years by unbelieving governments and churches. It is essential that all Canadians have an understanding of Canada's dark past as Canadians generally see the themselves as good, decent, polite people who quietly but firmly do the right thing, play by the rules, stand up for peace, order, and good government. This benign national self-image is actually in sharp contrast to our colonial history.”

Recently, Paulette Regan, author of Unsettling the Settler Within, presented a keynote address and I'd like to share a few of her words. She says, "perhaps we begin by asking ourselves some troubling questions: how is that we know nothing little about this history and what does persistence of this invisibility in the face of living survivors tell us about our relationship with Aboriginal people?"

It is also said that every generation needs to re-evaluate the official version of history, the version that is so often written by people who hold power and unless we can't confront that hidden history in Canadian history, we won't become the kind of people we think we already are.

If we don't explore the historical myths upon which our national identity is based, we then lock a foundation for truth. If we have a foundation based on untruths, how can we ever achieve reconciliation?

For far too long, Canadians have been miseducated about Canada's dark past and, as difficult as it is for survivors to retail their stories, I have witnessed many times the changing of hearts and minds in elementary, secondary, post-secondary, and, most notably, with pre-service educators which translates to a much-needed new path for education, a path of understanding which leads to reconciliation.

How do we reconcile something if we lack the understanding of what were reconciling?

Through this book, we share important elements to complement survivor stories. The links allow you to access video clips, historical documents, downloadable publications, timelines, and photos.

The book takes you from the architect behind residential school to the Medical Inspector, Peter Bryce, who blew the whistle and was silenced by government.

From the stories of survivors to the story of one of thousands. One child of thousands, Gladys who died of tuberculosis in Kamloops.

You'll notice the beautifully designed tiles that have been highlighted throughout the book. The tiles were designed by students from across the province.

While some of the book speak specifically to BC residential schools, much of the content is relevant nationwide.

We've also included an important piece on the resistance and resilience of survivors, their families, and communities.

We also profile the work of Commissioners Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson, and Chief Wilton Littlechild.

Through the Calls to Action, special emphasis has been placed on the role of education and the leadership of educational institutions. Educators will play a key role in the Truth and Reconciliation process.

As stated through the Commission, because education was one of the primary tools to oppress Aboriginal people, it must also be the tool to change the damage that has been done. The education systems of this country bear a large responsibility, a large share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs, but it can fix what it has broken and it begins by teaching the truth of our history, but we must understand that it won't happen overnight. It's taken generations to get here and it'll take generations to heal.

The commission also stated that much of the current state of troubled relationships between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals is attributable to educational institutions and what they've taught or what they failed to teach over many generations.

Justice Sinclair, in one of his articles to teachers stated, "mainstream Canadians see the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities, but they have no idea how that happened, what caused it, or how government contributed to that reality through such actions and policies as residential schools. In that environment, it becomes easy to blame Aboriginal people for their lot in life and for their failure to overcome it as others have.

This work will require patience as, what is very clear, is that it could take years before we see the results of today's efforts. Just as it has taken decades to realize the damage and devastation left in our communities from the residential school system. We continue to work with educators across the province and, in fact, across the country.

I cannot speak highly enough of the support from the BC Teachers Federation and key staff members like Nancy Knickerbocker, Miranda Light, and the graphics team in the reconciliation work that has been done. Further, I must acknowledge the networking that has taken place between so many amazing people from the First Nations Caring Society to KAIROS Canada, Project of Heart, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to the Legacy of Hope Foundation for all the incredible work that they're doing with others to ensure that this dark history is never hidden again.

I would be remiss by not mentioning the incredible work that has been done by Charlene Bearhead who works tirelessly to bring so many of these partner groups together.

We've shared over 11,000 Project of Heart books to date and have received over 30,000 hits to the e-book and to the links.

We've connected with chiefs and councils, healthcare authorities, unions, provincial judges, and student unions.

We are very pleased with the response we've been receiving. But we must remember, with the closing ceremony of the TRC and the Calls to Action, now the work really begins. This is where it will be crucial that we continue to work together.

We most recently worked in partnership with NCTR, developing the Life of a Child module that we just launched yesterday, as a matter of fact. The lessons were piloted in a Grade 3/4/5 classroom and focus on the life of a child, Gladys, who died from tuberculosis while attending Kamloops Residential School.

It was incredible to see not only the depth of understanding and heartfelt connection that these young students made to Gladys but the response from parents who shared their appreciation for what they learned from their own children. The history that they were never taught when they went to school.

Danny, one of the students' dads, commented that he and his wife have learned so much from their own son and have been inspired by his compassionate response to learning the history of residential schools.

He says, "the children's immediate understanding of the injustices and their strong sense that we have to make things right was very moving."

We hope we are making a difference because Canadians who understand our shared history understand how we all have a hand in building a future Canada that advances respect, healing, and reconciliation for future generations.

We must all provide opportunities to learn about our colonial history and its ongoing impacts.

We, as teachers, hold the key to changing the narrative.

I would like to close by sharing two final comments: a quote from Murray Sinclair who said, "we have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top, and we call upon you to do the climbing."

And second, I'd like to share a video clip from Education Day in Vancouver, also linked to the ebook in your packages.

Many wonder and perhaps question how and if it's appropriate to teach young children about residential school and we can learn much from the students who participated. Children get it. They understand injustice at a very young age as you'll see from the video clip. They gave us so much hope as future leaders.

We know that among you are the future leaders of this country. Among you are those who are going to govern this land. Among you are those who are going to make important decisions about reconciliation and you are going to have to come to terms with this history that you're going to hear a little bit about.

We know that's a difficult process but it all starts with three things. You must watch, you must listen, and you must show respect.

It's finally nice that we realize everything and we learn about it, what really happened.

My grandparents, my mom, have been through this residential stuff so I just really want to know more
about it.

I've learned a lot actually considering that my grandma didn't tell me very much or anything.  So, I've learned what abuse they had to go through. I've learned when it started, how long it was for, when it ended. I've learned a lot.

I want to learn about what happened to my dad when he was in residential school and want to learn the healing process and what will help with it.

It makes me feel kind of sad for those kids because it was torture, you know, it's not fair. They just took them away from their homes. So just here, go to that school. I just didn't agree with that. It's just really wrong.

It makes me upset when I think about it because just knowing what my dad and his mom had to go through, it's really hard to deal with I guess. I don't know. It bothers me a lot. Now I realize why my dad drank so much when I was a little kid I guess.

It'll kind of change the way I think about things, like how it would affect someone's life and their kids for, like, generations.

That's one of the worst things that Canada did.

I hope events like this just are able to bring closure to a lot of horrible things that happened and I hope a lot of people now recognize that crime happened and that we need to make amends for it.

I'll never forget this day because today is the first day they ever told us about residential schools and if I ever see anyone that is Aboriginal, I'll ask them if they can speak their language, because I think speaking their language is a pretty cool thing.

I like being around this. I like hear the drums and seeing everybody else and learning about new nations and all these new languages I have not heard of yet.

I think we should start a dance crew and start bringing back our culture, start speaking our language, and everyone should just treat each other equal.

Our traditions carried on and passed down so that all our younger generations and so that my baby knows what happened in the past to her ancestors and so that she can just keep bringing our tradition forward and passing it on to her kids and their kids and everything.

I hope that something like this never happens again anywhere in the world and the importance of letting people know so that it doesn't happen again and it's good for the younger generation to know that so that we all treat each other as equal.