Ottawa children honour residential school survivors with art

Students at an Ottawa public school have unveiled four large murals to honour residential school survivors and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Roughly 400 elementary students craft murals after learning about Indian residential schools

Students at Pleasant Park Public School in Ottawa honoured residential school survivors. 1:55

Students at an Ottawa public school have unveiled four large murals to honour residential school survivors and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The four murals, called Mamawi:Together, adorn an outside wall at the entrance of Pleasant Park Public School in Ottawa's south end. Each represents a season, according to teachings from Algonquin elder Albert Dumont. 

The entire student body at Pleasant Park Public School in Ottawa contributed to Mamawi:Together. (Waubgeshig Rice)

"These students are now elementary students and they're going to go on to high school and university and colleges, but they're never going to forget this experience," says Dumont. 

"And their views and how they see First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples from now on is forever changed because of the experience they've had here with this art project."

The project began in September when parents and school officials met to think of ways to teach students about Canada's Indian Residential School System. They decided on a large, comprehensive art project, and that's when Dumont came in. 

Eye-opening experience

Each of the nearly 400 students from kindergarten to Grade 6 at Pleasant Park had a hand in creating the murals, from planning to painting. 

It was an eye-opening experience for Grade 6 student Cameron Van Der Starren, who only recently learned of the trauma and abuse indigenous children endured at residential schools.

"It came as a shock … I didn't realize our country would do something like that. We're a very nice country, but I didn't realize we'd do something so mean," said Van Der Starren.

Van Der Starren says painting the murals with other students was a good bonding experience that taught them all about a dark chapter in Canadian history.

In its initial findings and recommendations released last week, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for better school-based programming to raise awareness of what happened at residential schools.

"It is a learning experience for our staff and for our students to actually become aware of Canadian history and the residential schools," says Pleasant Park principal Guido Ronci. 

He believes the mural unveiling is fitting and timely. 

It's not really in our history. People think World War II is bad, but I think that's bad too.- Chelsea O'Loan, granddaughter of a residential school survivor

"Looking forward, it's building tomorrow's leaders and making sure that our leaders are aware of Canadian history — and all of Canadian history, so that errors made in the past will not be made in the future."

Grade 6 student Chelsea O'Loan is the granddaughter of a residential school survivor. She knows more Canadian students need to learn about that experience. 

"It's not really in our history. People think World War II is bad, but I think that's bad too." said O'Loan. 

Still, she is proud of what her school has accomplished: "I think it could encourage other schools to do it, too."

About the Author

Waubgeshig Rice

Reporter

Waubgeshig Rice is a multi-platform journalist reporting for CBC's Ontario markets. Originally from Wasauksing First Nation on Georgian Bay, he's now based in the CBC Sudbury newsroom. You can email him at waubgeshig.rice@cbc.ca and follow him on Twitter @waub.

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