Education News Fall2015/Winter 2016 - Page 10

DISRUPTED STUDIES : A TEACHER-RESEARC

Typically , our Teacher-Researcher story features teachers who have completed their M . Ed . programs , having successfully defended their theses . However , one of the realities of educational journeys , especially for adult learners , is that they are often disrupted by life and circumstance . The following is an interview with Ottawa teacher and U of R grad student , Sylvia Smith , whose academic journey has been disrupted mostly because of a grad student project that has been taken up nationally : the Project of Heart . In fact , Smith won the Governor General ’ s History Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2011 because of this project .
1 . Why did you choose to do your graduate degree at the Faculty of Education , University of Regina ? ( especially given your location in Ottawa .)
At the time , my mom and dad were still alive and I had family in Saskatchewan . My family went there every summer to visit . Since I was a teacher and had summers off , it seemed like a fruitful way to combine my interest in graduate work as well as to keep the family connection going .
2 . How would you describe your experience as a student at the U of R ?
I have had nothing but GREAT experiences as a student at the U of R ! Our second daughter was quite young and needed childcare when I started my course work in 2007 , and we were able to enrol her in the summer programs that were held right at the University … in the gym in fact ! So it was a very stress-free endeavour ! We ( myself , my partner and daughter ) stayed in the residence there , had the childcare taken care of , and I was free to attend my courses !
3 . While studying with us , you developed the Project of Heart . Briefly outline what a Project of Heart looks like .
Initially Project of Heart ( POH ) had five distinct parts , and now it has six . Part 1 dealt with learning about the Indian Residential Schools ( IRS ), why they were created , how many there were , what the conditions were like for the students , and so on . Because there were virtually no resources for teaching about the IRS at the time , materials donated by Legacy of Hope ( LOH ) filled the kits . With respect to the loss of life and deaths due to the IRS , I relied on primary source documents that I got from visiting Library and Archives Canada . The primary source documents were ways for the students to see that these children actually existed and that they never stopped resisting attempts to make their lives better , even if it meant fleeing the schools and many of them , dying while trying . These primary source documents brought the horrors of so many of these schools to life !
Part 2 is where the students choose a particular Indian Residential School and then learn something about the Nation on whose land that School stood , and their contributions to Canadian society . The facilitator or teacher can proceed with doing this part in whatever way that best meets the learners ’ needs . Often , it is the first time that students find out the name of the Original Peoples of the territory that they ’ re living on . What students find out after doing this part , is that no matter how hard the Canadian Government tried to “ kill the Indian within the child ,” they were not successful . Students are able to see — and feel — that Indigenous peoples and their cultures must be incredibly resilient to have survived an onslaught that started 500 years ago and continues to this day .
Part 3 is the first gesture of reconciliation . It is the part where students take what information they ’ ve gleaned from doing Parts 1 and 2 , and use their skill / talent at communicating , through art , their feelings . They may feel sadness , anger , or they may not even know how to feel . They may feel hope , especially after finding out that Indigenous people are not a dying race — that there are many who are devoted to rebuilding their communities and relearning their languages … and know that there is a place for them in today ’ s society . But whatever it is they are feeling , they communicate it through art . They decorate a small wooden tile , each tile symbolically representative of the life of one child who died . This child ’ s memory is brought back to life .
Part 4 is where an Indian Residential School survivor ( or a cultural worker or an IRS intergenerational survivor , or an Elder ) comes to the school ( or church or business ) and answers questions , gives a teaching , or just talks to the students about life . Normally , if it ’ s a survivor , she will answer questions from the group . This is where the lived experiential knowledge is transmitted to the learners .
Part 5 is the social justice piece , the second gesture of reconciliation where settlers who are doing this project , “ walk the talk .” This part is missing from most government promises . Our Canadian Government , under the leadership of Mr . Harper , said we were sorry . But we didn ’ t mean it , because there were NO actions undertaken that would prove that we ( as a country ) were sorry . Project of Heart provides a way for its learners to truly enact our citizenship responsibilities , putting empathy into action , in a respectful way . ( We want to build trust . We want to walk with , not over , Aboriginal people .) It demonstrates to Indigenous people that non-Aboriginals are prepared to act in support of their resistance struggles , whether it be for justice for the horrific number of Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or murdered , or the overthe-top numbers of Aboriginal kids who are in state care through various ministries of child and social services .
Part 6 is a relatively recent addition . It was instituted after the TRC National Event in Saskatchewan while under the
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