By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

The heart of a commemorative initiative in the Columbia Valley has recently gained momentum at David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS). Each school year, Grade 9 students learn about the history of residential schools and their survivors during Social Studies through the Project of Heart.

“I applied for a grant for a memorial for students that attended St. Eugene’s Mission through the Federal government from the Ministry of Heritage for $4,300,” said Andrea Dunlop, DTSS teacher and project spokesperson.

The Project of Heart is a national initiative to seek the truth about the legacy of residential schools in Canada and acknowledge former students and their families in an effort to commemorate the lives of those impacted by the experience. The goal is to urge Canadians to become civically minded and to take action in social justice to improve the lives of all nations in both the present and future collectively.

“Teachers of all subjects are infusing Aboriginal content into all of their classes, and specific to the legacy of residential schools, Grade 9 social studies classes have been engaged in the Project of Heart,” said Glen Sage, DTSS principal to the Pioneer by e-mail. “With Andrea Dunlop’s efforts, we plan to build a large piece of art, shaped as a sturgeon nose canoe unique to the First Nations of this region and place the tiles from the Project of Heart on it.”

Dunlop hopes to acquire a second grant to fund the project and is seeking donations from the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), as well as from the Columbia Valley community.

“For the final project, students do a write up about what they have drawn on the tile and why,” explained Dunlop. “People all over Canada do this. The outside of every tile is painted Black to represent the kids who didn’t come home (because some Indigenous people did not survive the residential school experience).”

To ensure the sturgeon nose canoe is historically accurate, a local artist has joined the effort with Dunlop and DTSS Aboriginal Education Support Worker Monica Fisher on this project to research and design a metal canoe that will be placed at the entrance of the local high school, so the finished project can serve as a longstanding memorial to the survivors of St. Eugene Mission residential school near Cranbrook.

Dunlop hopes to include traditional Indigenous languages around the exhibit when it is completed, but plans to host some consultation sessions to query what the local First Nations would like to see in the finished project.

“As for the sturgeon nose canoe, we are partnering with Andrea, who has been an incredible ally,” Fisher told the Pioneer by e-mail. “She is always finding incredible projects to do that are meaningful, fun and educating. She is also a huge supporter of our program. We will be working together as well with our Nations to create signage at the front of our school entrance. It will incorporate the beauty of our valley, our first peoples, and Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and English languages. We look forward to the project as it is a collaboration between the school, work that the students have done, local artists and local history. This is part of the process moving towards truth and reconciliation.”

The Shuswap Indian Band (SIB) and the Akisqnuk First Nation (AFN) have been invited to participate in the project through a community engagement process to ensure there is consensus about the design and construction of the canoe. Dunlop believes that both nations have been supportive of this initiative so far.

However, Dunlop and Fisher plan to conduct engagement sessions with SIB and AFN to incorporate positive messaging about moving forward with hopeful qoutes for future generations. “This is all about truth and reconciliation,” said Dunlop. “Truth in acknowledging what happened to Indigenous people at residential schools, and reconciliation is about (encouraging all Canadians) to shape to be involved… In our display, there will be two paddles representing a different design. One of Ktunaxa. One Secwepemc. The two paddles (will) represent that to get that canoe moving forward, we need the support of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”

For more information about the Project of Heart, please visit projectofheart.ca/what-is-project-of-heart/

If you would like to donate to support this initiative, please contact Dunlop at Andrea.Dunlop@sd6.bc.ca.