A Grade 4 class at Riverview East School in New Brunswick is placing 215 pairs of shoes along the school’s fence to honour the memory of Indigenous residential school students.
Following the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in an unmarked burial site at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, River East teacher Chris Hooper, along with his educational assistant, decided to pay tribute by asking his own students to place 215 pairs of shoes along the fence outside of school.
The project was also a means toward educating his students about the history of residential schools in Canada, said Hooper.
“When I was their age we didn’t learn anything about this that I can recall. In Social Studies, you learned briefly about the people who were here before the Europeans, and essentially they were subjugated and disappeared from history. That is obviously not the true story so I think kids at a young age need to learn the true story,” Hooper said.
The shoes were collected and donated by students at the school from kindergarten to Grade 8, said Hooper.
Grade 4 student Kieran Oliver, who took part in the project, said that it is important to study the history of residential schools in Canada so those students will be remembered.
“People took them away from their families so their parents or brothers or sisters didn’t get to see them,” said Oliver.
In keeping with the Education Act established in 1997, according to the Anglophone East School District, teachers are guided on how to introduce Indigenous culture and history into the classroom.
In early June, the province’s education minister said he wants to ensure the curriculum in New Brunswick public schools directly addresses the history of Indian day schools in the province.
Ceremonial Elder and Knowledge Keeper Donna Augustine from Elsipogtog First Nation said that every school across Canada from kindergarten to Grade 12 should be teaching Indigenous history as part of the required curriculum with guidance from the Indigenous community.
“The true history of our people has not been taught in schools and so even though it is hard to look at, it needs to be brought up — the truth needs to be brought up. These children that were found … imagine how long they waited to be found. But their spirits know that they will be found and that the truth will come out,” said Augustine.
Hooper said the shoes will remain on the fence until the end of the school year and many will be donated to charity organizations across the city.
He said he hopes the project will highlight the importance of Truth and Reconciliation for Indigenous communities and the importance that everyone, not just students, learns about the history of residential schools in Canada.
“An installation like this I think fosters a conversation among parents and grandparents and people who are visiting our school as well,” Hooper said.