Students at Creston Valley Secondary School (formerly Prince Charles) have been working towards reconciliation with their own projects, including an art installation of a residential school room.
In Canada, there were 130 Canadian residential schools that operated between 1874 and 1996.
The school system was created for the purpose of removing Indigenous children from the influence of their own families to eliminate all aspects of their language and culture.
Young children were forcibly removed from their homes once attendance at residential schools became mandatory by law in the 1920s. Their parents were threatened with prison if they refused.
The art installation at the secondary school reflects the horror stories of abuse and loneliness told by many survivors. A full room was decorated with a small bed, chair, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help. The door to the room has bars on the window, like a prison cell.
Teacher Ki Louie helped the students on the project and said they responded with some very impactful reflections.
“What stuck out to me the most was how they were punished,” said student Nadine Persad. “Some of them had really had harsh punishments.”
She hoped that the other students would gain a greater understanding of the history of Indigenous assimilation in Canada by looking at the art installation.
“I am glad we made the room because I witnessed students looking into it and being shocked at what they saw,” said Persad. “The truth needs to be shown in an attempt to rebuild what has been broken. It is not something we can go back and fix because it is done, but we can rebuild now and into the future as best we can.”
Another student, Riley Lotus, was able to visualize how alone the Indigenous students felt when they were taken away from their loved ones.
“This is a part of Canada’s history, and it is not something to glance over,” said Lotus. “It had a major impact on many people and communities. It should not be overlooked or forgotten because it was such a traumatic experience.”
For many of the students involved, it was a learning experience on how the children were really treated. While some had heard of residential schools before, others expressed their surprise when they learned of the atrocities.
“Horrific things happened behind the walls of those buildings,” said another student in a reflection piece. (Names have been withheld as the assignments were graded.) “I feel that what has happened has left a stain on our nation. It is important that everyone in Canada recognizes the mistreatment towards Indigenous people. It will also help lower the chances of toxic behavior happening again.”
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