Connecting our students with children lost to the Indian Residential School System in Canada

By Charlene Bearhead
May 31, 2013

There is a wave of learning that is sweeping across the country and it is bringing teachers and students from all facets of our communities together over one common interest: truth in education.

Education has long been identified as critical to improving the lives of Aboriginal peoples and addressing long-standing inequities. The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) recognizes the essential need to implement a more inclusive role and successful educational experience for both Aboriginal teachers and students, and that Canadian schools, teacher organizations and teacher education programs have much to learn from the professional knowledge of Aboriginal teachers and communities. We are proud to have been part in the education day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s National Event in Montreal on April 24, 2013.

The history and legacy of Indian Residential School in Canada has been Canada’s hidden history for far too long and continues to be the elephant in the room that government doesn’t want to talk about. This is not stopping over 600 classroom teachers and their students from seeking the truth on their own and taking social justice actions to create a new history: one that is based on respect, caring and honesty. These are the learners, often consisting of teachers learning more along with their students, who are engaging in Project of Heart.


“Project of Heart” is an inquiry based, hands-on, collaborative, inter-generational, journey of seeking truth about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada. Its purpose is to:

  • examine the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada and to seek the truth about that history, leading to the acknowledgement of the extent of loss to former students, their families and communities;
  • commemorate the lives of the thousands of Indigenous children who died as a result of the residential school experience, and
  • call Canadians to action, through social justice endeavors, to change our present and future history collectively

In acknowledging the loss suffered by Aboriginal children, families and communities through the Indian Residential School experience, we also gain an understanding of the strength, wisdom and resilience of the traditional peoples of this land. Project of Heart seeks to:

  • expand the opportunities available for the wisdom of Aboriginal Elders to be heard, recognized and honored;
  • change attitudes and behaviors – hearts and minds – as Elders give voice to language, values, traditions and teachings that were suppressed by residential schooling, and
  • inspire the building of relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada based on mutual understanding, respect and collective action to create a different future.

Project of Heart partners with the Legacy of Hope Foundation to provide teacher education sessions across the country in an attempt to support as many teachers as possible in their endeavors to provide their students with the most accurate and meaningful experience possible as they learn about the I.R.S. system as it existed in Canada and how it continues to impact Aboriginal communities as well as the relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. The Legacy of Hope Foundation has produced the resource “100 Years of Loss”, an education kit designed for teachers to utilize in teaching high school students on these issues.

The National Day of Healing and Reconciliation, Project of Heart and CTF are collaborating to take this important learning a step further through a school twinning project that supports teachers in public schools to partner with on-reserve schools. The objective is to facilitate the building of respectful and meaningful relationships between students from both school communities. Currently this pilot project is underway in Quebec and includes teachers and students who took part in the education day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s National Event in Montreal on April 24, 2013.

For more information on Project of Heart go to or e-mail the National Coordinator Charlene Bearhead at

For more information on the Legacy of Hope Foundation and the 100 Years of Loss Edu-kits go to

For more information on the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s ongoing work in support of, and engagement with, Aboriginal communities, teachers and students, please contact or visit or


Charlene Bearhead is Program Manager of the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation for the Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

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