West Coast students have started the school year steeped in sombre reflection and research as they prepare for Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Ucluelet Secondary School has partnered with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust to bring in a Legacy of Hope Foundation exhibit, ‘‘Remembering, Honouring and the Way Forward,’ that will be surrounded by student-led projects at a Sept. 30 unveiling.
This is the second year the school has collaborated with Legacy of Hope, though this year’s student participation has doubled with six classes and roughly 150 students participating.
“For decades this was hidden from the general public. Survivors themselves never felt like they were being heard. When you go through that much trauma, the first part of healing is to have the truth come out, the acknowledgement…We want to do this to make sure we honour those children that never came home and the children who are still now living with the effects of hardcore trauma,” Jason Sam of the CBT told the Westerly News.
“It’s also to create more understanding and empathy with people, especially youth. If they can understand that there are people that are extremely traumatized by this to this day, it could create a better community moving forward. If we know that our neighbours were really hurt by the Canadian Government and the churches, they might have a better understanding of why communities are still struggling and people are still struggling.”
Art students are designing and printing orange shirts, literary studies students are researching the 94 calls to action and then presenting one call to action and analyzing whether progress is being made towards them.
Social Studies and History students are working on presentations about specific residential schools. English students are working on poems and the school’s Nuu chah nulth class is going to interpret the work to make it bilingual.
The students met with residential school survivors at Tin Wis Resort on Sept. 13 and Sam said it was a powerful experience.
“The conference centre there is the only building left of the former Christie Residential School. When you go into that conference room, you’re going into the old gymnasium of that residential school,” he said. “We had a day of listening to survivors share their experiences in residential schools. The kids listened and it brought it into reality. It takes it from the internet and paper to, ‘Yes, these are real people that are still alive and are still affected.’
“One of the survivors said that she’s worked a lot on being able to even go to Tin Wis because that was part of the school that she went to. We were in the gym and she pointed to certain areas in the gym that were the place of terrible memories.”
He added survivors were also brought into the school to see the actions students are taking towards reconciliation.
“Survivors definitely want to see action so they get to go around to the classes and join and share in the teaching and the learning and provide further input into it,” he said.
Grade 9 art students were designing and printing Orange shirts on Friday.
The class’ teacher Shannon McWhinney told the Westerly the students worked on the design with artist Marika Swan and heard from survivors about how important orange shirts are.
“My stomach did loops, it was very emotional to listen to,” McWhinney said. “They talked very personally about how the orange shirts affect them in a very positive way to see that we are learning and listening. A lot of survivors have felt that they haven’t been listened to so to see visually that community members are walking around wearing the shirts, listening, engaging and supporting them emotionally is really important.”
She said the engagement and participation had been “amazing” though she noted the difficulty of the topic.
“It’s incredibly important. A lot of the students are still learning, some of the students are learning for the first time and there’s community members who are learning for the first time about residential schools and the effects,” she said. “It’s a very emotional and a hard topic to learn, so we have had our counsellors involved as well as support team. It’s a lot for the students, especially in September, to be taking in all this really incredibly difficult information and then to digest it and do something creative with it, is a really really big process that they feel a lot of pride in at the end.”
Once the Legacy of Hope exhibit and student-led projects are ready, students will go through the exhibit, which will also be opened to the public in the school’s multipurpose room on Sept. 30.
“It comes under youth leading reconciliation. The youth use their projects to educate the broader community,” Sam said.