Ucluelet Secondary School students are being immersed in activities to honour the survivors and the children who never made it out of the Canadian Indian Residential School System.
In Shannon McWhinney’s Grade 9/10 Art Class, teens learn about Orange Shirt Day by designing and screen-printing their own orange shirts. The Literary Studies 11 Class is studying about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 Calls to Action, and the B.C. First Peoples 12 Class is researching specific Indian Residential Schools in B.C. A field trip to Tin Wis and the former site of Christie Residential School took place on Friday.
From Sept. 24 to Oct. 1, the student led work on residential schools will be displayed in the new multipurpose room alongside a museum quality exhibit curated by the Legacy of Hope Foundation called ‘Escaping Residential Schools: Running For Their Lives’.
Nuu-chah-nulth Education worker Jason Sam says every student at USS will attend the exhibit as well as Grade 6/7 students from both Ucluelet Elementary and Wickaninnish Community School. The exhibit will be open for public viewing on Sept. 30.
“I started working on (getting this exhibit) to Ucluelet in April. With this exhibit, USS is answering the call to action of Education to address the legacy of Residential Schools,” he said, noting that this is the first time the ‘Escaping Residential Schools: Running For Their Lives’ exhibit is being displayed in Canada.
Grade 11 twin sisters Elsa and Krista Wagner are Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. Their grandmother is a survivor of St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, B.C.
Krista says her families’ history motivates her to save what language and traditions they have left.
“If I do plan on having children, I’m not going to sugar coat our history. I’m very frustrated that our culture is and elective (class), but other cultures are mandatory. Social Studies its in curriculum, but not a lot. I want it to be mandatory for all Canadians,” she said.
The teaching about Canada’s Residential School System differs by province and territory. In British Columbia, Indigenous Knowledge and Perspectives is integrated throughout the redesigned K-12 curriculum.
“How do you teach the little ones?” asks Sam. “That’s something I’ve always struggled with.”
He says there are children’s books to help introduce the subject, and in Grade 9 Social Studies students learn with Gord Downie’s The Secret Path, an album and graphic novel that tells the story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School fifty years ago.
Grade 11 student Lauren Galloway said one thing she is shocked to learn about is the starvation that took place at the Indian Residential Schools.
“Food doesn’t get talked about. They were given a lot of rotten food and not a lot of it,” she said.
The youth encouraged people to keep talking and learning about what happened.
“We want everyone to know about what the kids went through in Indian Residential Schools. We can’t keep putting it back, we need to push through the fog,” said Elsa Wagner.
Thursday, Sept. 30 is a new federal statutory holiday called ‘Truth and Reconciliation Day’. From noon to 7:30 p.m. on the 30th, the public is invited to view the Legacy of Hope exhibit and the student projects on the Canadian Indian Residential School System in the new multi-purpose room of USS. Guests are welcome to access the exhibit through the south side by the bandroom.