At its foundation, Project of Heart aims to move Reconciliation forward through learning, art and social justice action.
(1) Learning: Residential Schools
Project of Heart is an innovative learning experience designed to engage participants in a deeper exploration of the true history of residential schools in Canada and the beauty and brilliance of Indigenous traditions, culture, and knowledge. It is a journey of understanding through the heart and spirit, as well as through facts and dates. Project of Heart was created in 2007 by Sylvia Smith and her students at Elizabeth Wyn Wood Alternative High School. You can watch this beautiful video of Sylvia explaining the project to learn more.
For our Project of Heart Community Workshops, we start by learning about residential schools in general, and then we learn more about a specific residential school – Kivalliq Hall in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. In all of our learning, we are led by members of the beautiful Indigenous Youth Advisory Circle we are building together. I am proud to say that we now have three Advisory Circle members: Kyrstin Dumont, Jessie Kigutaq – Metcalfe and Thor Ford. I can’t wait to see how our circle continues to grow. I am honoured to learn from these youth. Here is a photo of Jessie with a workshop participant:
(2) Art: Gesture of Reconciliation
After the important learning, participants undertake a “Gesture of Reconciliation” through a group art project where we decorate wooden tiles to honour former students of residential schools and to inspire people to do their own learning about Canada’s residential school system.
Normally, the tiles created at new Project of Heart workshops are displayed as an art piece, a conversation piece, at the school or organization where the workshop is held. But the tiles we create will be added to the Project of Heart Commemoration Exhibit. This is a big deal as this permanent exhibit had already been completed, they had all the tiles they needed – or so they thought until I came in and informed them it was not complete! This is where the story gets sort of magical …
I first met Sylvia Smith, Founder of Project of Heart, in January 2020. We had tables set up beside each other at a conference about education. We learned a little bit about what each other did, and Sylvia signed up for my newsletter, but we didn’t come out of that event with any plan for connecting further.
Then, in August 2021, Sylvia wrote back to one of my newsletters, completely out of the blue, saying that it was “EPICally good!!” – so she was brought back into the top of my mind.
Then in September 2021, I went to see the Project of Heart Commemoration Exhibit for Orange Shirt Day at the Beechwood Cemetery. This exhibit consisted of 57,000 tiles set up in a labyrinth, with groupings of tiles representing every residential school in Canada. The goal was to walk through this labyrinth, intentionally, looking through these tiles, thinking of the children who went to residential schools, the ones who survived them and the ones who never made it home, thinking about the intergenerational impacts that these schools continue to have on Indigenous people. It was so powerful. I finally saw what it was that Sylvia had created, and I felt it right in my heart and soul. Here is a photo of my daughter and her friend at the exhibit:
As we were walking through the exhibit, I noticed that the residential school in Rankin Inlet was not included. This is because this Commemoration Exhibit was completed before the residential school in Rankin Inlet was officially added to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. This school was not originally included in the Agreement because the Government of Canada was fighting with the Government of the Northwest Territories to determine who should actually take responsibility for it. In 2018, it was determined that the Government of Canada was responsible for this school. You can read more about this here.
I am connected to an awesome youth who is from Rankin Inlet, so that community has an extra special place in my heart. When I saw that this residential school was not represented in the powerful Project of Heart Commemoration Exhibit, I reached out to this youth to ask him if he thought we should do the work to get it included – and he said yes. So I emailed Sylvia Smith right from the exhibit telling her all about this and then walked out of the exhibit and right into her! I told her all this in person and she told me to get to work building these Project of Heart Community Workshops to add Kivalliq Hall to the exhibit.
And this brings us up to today, where we have created these beautiful workshops for the community – for kids, students, parents, educators, leaders, grandparents, friends – anyone and everyone who wants to work together to help make things better.
Which takes us to the third important part of the story …
(3) Social Justice Piece – A Fundraiser for Justice 4 Indigenous Women
If we don’t take what we have learned and apply it to our lives we have not respected the learning that these Indigenous youth have given to us through these workshops. So in order to do this, we are to commit to undertaking an action that will make things better in our communities and our society. We have chosen to make necklaces to sell as a fundraiser for Justice 4 Indigenous Women to support their efforts to bring traditional Inuit birthing practices back to Nunavut. You can read more about this here.
These necklaces allow the wearer to be a truth teller, a story teller, to share their learning with their friends and family. If someone asks about the necklace, this means that they are most likely able to learn about residential schools and Reconciliation with an open heart and mind. These necklaces are powerful.
We will be running as many of these Project of Heart Workshops as we are able to. We are currently holding them at the amazing Revel Academy with so much love and support from the Founder, Erin – thanks Erin! The best way to stay up to date on these workshops is to sign up for my newsletter (which you can do at the bottom of this page) or follow our Facebook and Instagram pages. We are also open to running a workshop for other groups and organizations – this could be school groups, church groups, sports teams, or work teams. If this is something that interests you, please send me an email at email@example.com and we can work out all the details!
Here are some more beautiful photos from past workshops to leave you with …