You Matter! You Matter A LOT!
Updated: Jun 22, 2021
This year, my grade 4 students and I have been diving deeply into an inquiry around the concept of change. We have been wondering: Is change good? Is change bad? Is it always one or the other? When is change necessary? How can we act to bring about change?
As a part of this year long inquiry, we have had many explorations, questions, and conversations to help us to uncover what change has meant for the Syilx, and Indigenous People in Canada. To learn about some of the explorations we have taken, and to see the first part of our story, please click here.
Today, I wanted to share with you a glimpse into a recent experience that holds up the beliefs and values we have been living as a community, and also illuminates the culture of thinking and the habits of mind we have been cultivating.
My students have developed the empathy to connect with experiences that are not visible or present in their own lives, experiences that have happened at another time or in a distance place. They connect on a deep and profound human level to the experiences of other humans who come from different backgrounds, different experiences, and different places.
This week, in the wake of the tragic discovery of the 215 children found in unmarked graves at the residential school on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation land, the children sought opportunities to make sense of this tragedy together.
The children felt compelled to act. They decided to create 215 orange hearts as a way of honouring the lives of these children and processing their own feelings about the revelation. It was deeply important to them that all 215 children and their families were honoured with their own heart to show that each of them mattered. On the orange hearts, they wrote messages like: "You matter!" and "You matter A LOT!"
We had recently begun an exploration of treaties with the beautiful book: Treaty Words: For As Long As The Rivers Flow by Aimée Craft.
Craft's words invited us to think about treaties as a sacred covenant between people and the land and not just the legal, political documents that we have come to know and understand from formal treaty processes. The students came to understand that a treaty agreement meant different things to different people.
Liam: I wonder if Europeans and the Indigenous people see the treaties the same way. I don’t think Europeans saw Indigenous people the same way the Indigenous people saw themselves.
Jamin: Is there more than one way to make a treaty?
Kaia: Does treaty mean different things to different people?
Niko: Why were there no women when the agreements were signed?
Sydney: Are women allowed to do treaties?
Kaia: Does everyone get a voice or just some?
I would like to let the children’s voices tell the rest of the story.
In a conversation that began with treaties, the children quickly turned our thinking back to these 215 children:
Finn: The land surrender sounds different than a treaty.
Liam: That’s not really a treaty when people surrender. It’s taking the land.
Alexis: These are the same people that were involved in residential schools.
Brody: I think the parents of these children were very sad.
Finn: Can we burn these schools down? Why choose to keep something? I have been to the Saint Mary Residential School. It makes me mad and upset, and it would be a painful reminder.
Ameenah: I agree with Finn. We don’t really need them. We have not really gotten rid of racism yet.
Kaia: I think there is a point in keeping them. It is important to remember our past, especially the mistakes. Then we won’t forget and repeat them.
Mae: What happens when people are hurt? How do we make up for their hurt? There are less Indigenous people than settlers, so it is unbalanced. Things happened to them that made their numbers less.
Alexis: Now that we know this, how are we going to honour those children?
Evan: I think the people who experienced these schools, should get to decide what to do with these buildings.
Ameenah: Everyone’s voice matters, but people who went to those schools should have more say.
Alexis: I think they should be made into a museum as a way to not forget it.
Kara: I kind of disagree with Mae. I wouldn’t keep those schools.
Lena: The people who have bad memories from those schools, I don’t think they ever want to see them again.
Sydney: I actually don’t agree with burning them anymore. I changed my thinking. Children died there and that would be like stepping on their graves.
Kaia: I think if we burn them down, then it kind of shows that we forget. There is nothing to show for that it happened. It won’t be really fair.
Manolo: What happens if we have not discovered everything there yet and we burn them down? Then we have lost their stories forever.
The children holding up the beaded timeline they constructed to make visible the multiple stories they have explored. They are holding the weight of these stories in their hands.
We decided that we needed to move to thinking materials as a way of processing our feelings and making our emotions visible to each other.
The children each selected a single material and spoke to the properties of each material as well as how it connected to their thinking about the conversation that had just unfolded. The children decided the process for sharing, and independently decided to open up their sharing to questions and comments from each other.
Brody: I picked this one because it’s like glass. The 215 kids that were found just breaks your heart.
Ollie: I like the piece you picked because hearts are fragile and they can break really easily.
Jayhan: How can that represent a broken heart?
Brody: Because glass can break easily.
Gurleen: The people who died, and the people who survived... it broke their spirits. This kind of connects to “The One and Only Ivan” novel we read. It broke the giraffe’s spirit and then it forgot to run.
Kaia: Is there something to do with it being smooth? Maybe the smoothness is the control. The people controlling them.
Alexis: I picked the moss because it can catch on fire very easily when it is dry. It reminded me of us talking about whether or not we should burn down the residential schools. It’s also bumpy. It reminds me of how really mean the nuns were to the children. And how some of them passed away. The moss can rip really easily. It reminded me of how children were ripped from their families.
Myla: I like the connection to fire.
Mae: I liked your reasons. Especially the part of being ripped apart from your family.
Gurleen: I love how you explained it. The 'ripped easily' part especially, too.
Kali: Why did you pick that colour of moss?
Alexis: I focused more on the texture than the colour.
Gurleen: I chose this branch. I had this idea that each person who passed away was a berry. And then Evie came up with an idea that each berry could represent a feeling, like their fear.
Kaia:-I like how each little berry represents each person, so you didn’t leave anyone out.
Alexis: I like how you didn’t just use your thinking. You used other people’s thinking, too.
Gabby: I picked a feather because when you drop a feather, it moves around. It kind of represents how my thinking changes. When I offer an idea, and then someone else offers an idea, my thinking can shift.
Alexis: I like the word shift. It can go in all different directions.
Finn: I chose this salt rock and I have a lot of reasons. I will start with it’s touch. It leaves residue when you touch it, and it’s like residential school. It leaves behind a trail. It’s also rough, because residential schools were rough. The red here shows that sometimes there was torture.
Alexis: I like how you said it’s rough going to the residential schools. The salt that it is leaving behind is like leaving history behind.
Jamin: I like how detailed you made it from one little rock.
Kara: I picked a salt rock as well because we talked about a bunch of different types of treaties and residential schools. Each side is a different story.
Kali: The salt is all the stuff that comes off of it. The tiny dots are every feeling of everyone who died or was hurt there.
Finn: Other people’s thoughts really shifted my thinking.
Kaia: I chose the red paper clip because it sort of shows that there were holes in the puzzle that we haven’t figured out yet. We need to find the pieces to figure it out. I chose red to show the suffering and dying. I also chose the colour red to show that if we burn down the residential schools, we will never find the pieces in that puzzle.
This story is still unfolding as we continue in this journey together. This was yet another experience with our Butterfly Community where Ann Pelo’s metaphor of teaching as improv came to life. We trust each other and in offering thinking to each other, we know that the others will pass back something that will extend and amplify our thinking.
When Alexis noted that these were the same groups of people involved in the residential schools, and the children bared their emotions, they were offering up their hearts and minds.
Taking up these offers has been an agreement in our community, and one that has been a source of deep fulfillment for all of us as learners.
Just like the messages that they wrote on the orange hearts they created to honour the 215 children and their families, my students know that they matter, that their thoughts matter, and that what they feel in their hearts matter.
They know that it is important to share their hearts and minds so we can all grow together.
limlәmt (Thank you), Marju Wise