Project teaches residential school history

For the third year, Project of Heart at the University of Regina commemorates the Regina Indian Industrial School. Pictured is the abandoned cemetery for the former residential school, located at 701 Pinkie Rd. Photo by Alexa Lawlor.

A local First Nations woman is bringing residential school history to students at the University of Regina this month.

The classes are part of the national program Project of Heart, which raises awareness about what happened in residential schools in Canada.

The project is facilitated by Jenna Tickell, a former graduate student at the University of Regina. Tickell discovered the project when she was working on her undergraduate degree, and ended up including it as part of her honours paper about teaching Indigenous issues in schools. “Project of Heart has changed my life; meeting Sylvia Smith has changed my life,” said Tickell.

Sylvia Smith is the founder of the project. She had the idea when she was teaching a fifth-grade class and discovered there were only 63 words that referenced Indigenous history in the textbook. Today, the project is facilitated in schools across Canada.

On the Project of Heart website, it states the program looks to “expand the opportunities available for the wisdom of Aboriginal Elders to be heard,” “change attitudes and behaviors” and “inspire the building of relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada based on mutual understanding, respect and collective action to create a different future.”

The first aspect of Project of Heart is for students to learn about the history. “Once people learn about the atrocities, then they’ll understand and they’ll care,” said Tickell. “Hopefully once they care, they want to do something about it to correct the wrongs that have been done.”

“It’s also to make sure our colonial history doesn’t repeat itself,” said Tickell.

The second part of the program is to learn specifically about a former residential school in the area. Project of Heart classes held at Luther College commemorate the Regina Indian Industrial School.

“Usually Indigenous people do things in fours, so that’s why we decided to do [one school] for four years,” said Tickell.

This year, two publications from the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemoration Association will be used within the classes: one book, The Regina Indian Industrial School (1891-1910): Historical Overview and Chronological Narrative, by Douglas Stewart; and one film, RIIS from Amnesia, by Janine Windolph and Trudy Stewart.

The third part involves learning about specific children who went to the school. “Each participant commemorates one child, and so even with the four classes, we’re not going to be commemorating all the children that went to that school or were affected by that school’s history,” said Tickell. “It’s an attempt to commemorate as many children as possible.”

Participants will learn about the intergenerational effects and societal issues today that impact Indigenous people. “It’s linking [our colonial history] to our present-day problem,” said Tickell.

The project also includes the decoration of wood tiles as a commemoration ceremony for the many children that died in residential schools. “They’re commemoration pieces to give each individual child some sort of closure so their spirits can move on,” said Tickell.

Classes will be held in Luther College every Tuesday from 7-8:30 p.m. between Jan. 23 and Mar. 13. Everyone is welcome to attend. Email Jenna Tickell at to register.

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