Students come together in Lethbridge to learn about residential schools
Grade-four students from Piikani Nation and Sunnyside School came together to learn about residential schools and aboriginal culture through storytelling, art and dance.
It was an emotional day as students heard stories of Canada’s dark past filled with abuse and stolen childhoods from two residential school survivors.
Rosaline Crowshoe was only seven when she was taken to St. Mary’s Residential School. She would spend the next 10 years there, away from her family, unable to speak her own language, facing years of abuse.
“Our principal would come down to our playroom, a big room like this, and all of us would gather around and whoever was to be beaten, they would say, ‘Ok, you kneel down,'” Crowshoe told the students.
Years of abuse led to the feeling of a robbed childhood, and not knowing how to be a mother to her five boys.
“I didn’t know how to be a parent… I was so strict with them I never really showed them love and affection,” Crowshoe said. “I loved them but I couldn’t because it was wrong. Only later on, did I learn that I have to do this for my children.”
Crowshoe says the impact of residential schools is very much felt to this day.
“A lot of us couldn’t handle what happened to us. That’s why you see some of our people on the streets. They’re addicted to drinking and whatever because they can’t handle what happened to them.”
The visit was part of Project of Heart, a program that encourages education and reconciliation among First Nations and non-native Canadians across Canada.
“I can’t imagine going to a residential school or a boarding school and being treated the way they were treated,” grade-four student Olivia Hudey said.
Although a heavy subject, it was a chance for students to come together not only through storytelling but art and dance as well.
“On Remembrance Day, we teach the kids about war and about death and people who give their lives for us and blood spilled,” Mark Anderson, teacher at Napi’s Playground Elementary School said. “We teach about the Holocaust and the horrors of it. They learn it in their social studies classes so I think they’re old enough to understand and listen and hear that it’s wrong to beat a child. They know that.”
It’s the fourth exchange between the two schools, and the impact it’s having is noticeable.
“I think it’s resonating in the hearts of those kids,” Ken Van Cleave Sunnyside School teacher said. “They heard the words that the elders spoke, and you just feel very bad and you feel sorry for them but there’s also a bright light, and the future of these kids to make sure this kind of thing never happens again.”
For Crowshoe, the day was about helping the next generation understand a part of Canada’s history that’s still very much a part of many lives.
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