The history of residential schools is just a scan away thanks to a Trafalgar Middle School class.
Grade 7 French immersion students put up posters around downtown Nelson on Thursday with QR codes. A scan of the code with a phone camera leads to a website made by the students that includes research on residential schools.
Trafalgar teacher Helena Bryn-McLeod said she was inspired by Phyllis Webstad, who had an orange shirt taken from her during her first day at a residential school. The lessons of that moment are now marked nationally during Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30.
“For so many Indigenous human beings who were forced to go to residential schools, September is a really hard time of year,” said Bryn-McLeod.
“The purpose of learning about residential school is to discover what kind of cultural identity we have. Why did we as a nation send kids to a place where they lost their identity, and how does that matter to kids now? So thinking about how we matter is super important every time we go back to school, and these kids wanted to share their knowledge.”
Each poster takes users to a different website with various information on Canada’s residential school system, which were government-sponsored religious schools that contributed to cultural genocide and intergenerational trauma of First Nations peoples throughout the 20th century. The last such school closed in 1996.
Bryn-McLeod had her class watch the documentary We Were Children about two people who grew up in the residential school system. The students then did their research and built bilingual websites with the help of Trafalgar teacher Curtis Bendig.
Chloe Loveday, one of Bryn-McLeod’s students, called the project eyeopening.
“We all know this happened,” she said. “If everyone knew what really happened it would probably be more helpful for everybody to take responsibility for it.”
Paige Vince, another student, said she hopes the 26 posters placed around Nelson help educate residents and further reconciliation.
“I like that it helps people bring into perspective the terrible things the government had done, and that it’s bringing up forgiveness,” she said.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.