'It isn't the sugar-coated history': Mi'kmaw educators teach P.E.I. students about MMIWG
'I was overwhelmed at the depth of which they allowed their heart to hear the words'
Some P.E.I. high school students recently got an opportunity to learn about the history of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
A pilot project meant to educate teens on the issue rolled out at Montague Regional High School in the days leading up to the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) on May 5, which is also known as Red Dress Day.
Students participated in a series of lessons on that history, looking at case files involving some the missing girls, and learning about contemporary Indigenous history going as far back as the 1700s.
The pilot is run by the Department of Education in collaboration with the University of Prince Edward Island and ArtsSmarts program.
Instructors said the goal of the project is to teach students not only about MMIWG, but why that issue has become so prevalent in Canadian society.
WATCH | How P.E.I. students are learning about MMIWG
"It's definitely important to be part of that cycle-breaking," said UPEI student teacher Laura Rudderham.
"We're really trying to teach the students that yes, it's heavy. But it took place because specific situations of history that have prevailed over and over and over again."
"Just makes you think about how the things in the past can cause long-lasting, like dragging, effects," said Grade 11 student Tyler Storring.
"It's the reason why things are how they are nowadays."
WATCH | Students learn about MMIWG through art, song and personal history from Indigenous leaders
Mi'kmaw knowledge-keeper Julie Pellissier-Lush and UPEI elder-in-residence Judy Clark were at the Confederation Centre of the Arts to teach the participating students about the subject through singing, art and personal storytelling.
The field trip was organized by the Public Schools Branch.
"It isn't the sugar-coated history," Pellissier-Lush said.
"It is the real history of how after colonization a whole bunch of systematic things were set in place to take away the power, to take away the history, the knowledge of Indigenous women. And the implications of that being the MMIWG and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
"It's just bringing that awareness ... that was never taught about before," Clark said. "But we have to look further than that: It is the root causes of what caused them to be what they were."
WATCH | P.E.I. students' art exhibit shows the powerful, emotional lessons they've learned about MMIWG
On Red Dress Day, the students unveiled a series of artworks they created in response to what they learned. Each student designed an unique eagle feather, which is meant to express a message of hope and reconciliation.
"A lot of people looked at this project in a different sort of way, and they brought their own ideas and their own thoughts and feelings to it and you can really see it in all of their artwork," said Grade 11 student Eden Boudreau.
"The two things that we've consistently come back to and try to centre over and over again is Indigenous voices and student voices," said UPEI student teacher Alyx Ellis.
"I really hope that if anyone is seeing this gallery, those are the things that they take from it."
Members of the Island's Mi'kmaw community, some of whom were part of the students' learning journey, got to see the artwork on opening night.
"I'm so, so happy, welta'si, that these people could put so much effort into our culture and everything that goes along with it," said Keptin James Bernard.
"I was overwhelmed at the depth of which they allowed their heart to hear the words, the stories, the songs that I shared with them and to see the work and the heart that they put into each of the pieces that are here," Pellissier-Lush said.
The exhibition will be on display at the Kings Playhouse art gallery in Georgetown until May 10. Donations will go to the Aboriginal Women's Association of P.E.I. and the Native Women's Association of Canada.
With files from Jane Robertson