The recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School shocked and saddened many, including students at Murdoch MacKay Collegiate.
Those Transcona high school students wanted to talk about the tragic discovery and its meaning because they feel that it is the only way we can grow as people and a nation.
That was the sentiment behind a recent art installation at the Transcona high school, teacher Kim Dudek said. The students recently installed 215 stylized orange Ms on orange posts at the school, one for each child in Kamloops.
"(English teacher) Robyn Grehan reached out and said ‘we need to acknowledge this in some fashion’," Dudek said.
Dudek was on it. She has taught a First Nations, Inuit and Metis Studies course at Murdoch since around the time Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report in 2015. She has led classes through discussions os some weighty topics, and was preparing to do just that on the Monday morning before the sad news came out of Kamloops.
"Shamattawa is on the on verge of a suicide crisis again," Dudek said. "Our goal on that Monday morning was to talk about Shamattawa and ways we could support them."
The discussion grew to include initial reactions to the Kamloops news and built on not only the year’s work to date in that class but also what the students were learning in classes like Grehan’s, which have seen more Indigenous-focused materials introduced of late.
Such discussions are even being had in younger grades, Dudek said, with students coming into high school with more knowledge than ever before.
The initial idea was for students to write something on each of the posts, but social distancing made that difficult, so Dudek thought of attaching a QR code to each one so passersby could scan it and enter their thoughts on a website linked to that code.
"It gives people something to do, an outlet," Dudek said. "People have a need to show support and to express themselves. They may be very lost."
Many people have scanned the QR codesand shared their thoughts, which came in a wide range of sentiments. It was all taken as an opportunity for discussion, an opportunity to grow.
"You had people use language where it was a moment to educate, to remind people of forms and words of naming," Dudek said.
"Some people used forms of words and you could see what generation they were in."
The students wanted to do more, to share their collective sentiment in a public way.
They asked for permission to place a statement on the school’s sign, and they made it count :
"If they were old enough to die we’re young enough to learn - 215."
Dudek sees progress in her class each year, as students come in more knowledgeable and aware all the time. They’re prepared to work and that commitment is needed.
"Enacting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, every human here has to do that if you want to truly make reconciliation work," Dudek said. "You have to do it.
"And the first piece is about children."
Community correspondent - East Kildonan
Tony Zerucha is a community correspondent for East Kildonan. Email him at email@example.com