What started out with a small class project turned into a national award-winning program about the legacy of residential schools.
Founder of Project of Heart, Sylvia Smith, started the program 13 years ago with her high school class when one student expressed an interest in learning more about what happened at the schools,
“I started it but my students were the ones that were the energy, and the passion behind it,” said Smith. “I helped them to achieve what they wanted.”
Smith and her students wanted to find some of the missing information, primarily about the children who attended the schools, and in doing so began a program that spread across Canada and parts of the United States.
“By 2007 we were already amassing the information that we would need, the DVDs, the tiles,
the little commemorative tiles,” said Smith, referring to the items made to honour the people who attended the schools.
“It’s pretty much across the country and we’ve even had school students in Germany do it.”
The program is held at the University of Regina. It starts Tuesday and continues every Tuesday 6-7:30 p.m. until April 9.
Jenna Tickell is the local program co-ordinator. Brenda Anderson works alongside her as a mentor to the facilitator. Anderson said the reason for the program reaching Regina was due to Tickell,
“She was a teacher and she saw a need,” said Anderson.
The program is open to anyone interested, regardless of age.
Anderson said the classes focus on research conducted on specific children who attended residential schools.
“Going to the archives to research the individual children that attended, you’re listening to
lectures, and you also have a component of commemorating the children who died at the
residential schools or shortly after,” said Anderson.
“The way you commemorate them is that you try to do as much research as possible about the children and then you present to the class what you’ve learned. So that’s how it integrates the heart you know because you listen to the stories of what happened to these children.”
After conducting research, they take an artistic approach by commemorating each child with a tile.
“This is the fourth year we’ve done this project,’’ said Anderson. “At the end of this
year we’re going to take all the tiles that have been made over the past four years and we’re going to create an art installation at Luther (College) that commemorates the children that we’ve been researching.”
The program can be emotional.
“Nobody can listen to, or hear those stories and not come out unchanged,” said Anderson.
Each two-inch tile is adorned with a short paragraph about the child, things like their height, weight and any other interesting facts discovered in the research.
“That is our way of re-learning the history,” said Anderson, who believes it helps connect people to the Reconciliation and Truth Commission that has been established to respect and honour Indigenous people and their history in Canada.
U of R student Mirella Matenda attended Project of Heart during its first year .
Matenda said she initially didn’t have much information to about the residential schools, but believed she learned from the project a lot more than she did throughout high school about what happened, how the children were treated, their names and what classes were like within the residential schools.
Matenda appreciated the time she spent with Project of Heart and was touched by a ceremony that blessed the commemorative tiles.
“Being outside and having our tiles blessed, I would say was like a really memorable moment,” said Matenda.
Matenda is unable to attend the classes this year because of a conflicting schedules, but said she would go back if she could.
“I would recommend it to anybody, whether they’re in university or not,” said Matenda.