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The Society of the Sacred Heart Contributes to the Work of Truth and Reconciliation at Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada

The Society of the Sacred Heart recently donated a piece of art by Zoey Wood-Salomon, an indigenous artist, to Saint Paul University, as a contribution to the transformation of education being promoted at Saint Paul University. The presence of indigenous art is one step of many needed for reconciliation in Canada. But reconciliation has indeed, at last, begun.

On May 31, 2015, between 7,000 and 10,000 people participated in the Walk for Reconciliation in Canada’s capital region, Ottawa-Gatineau. The walk marked the opening of three days of events surrounding the June 2 release of the final report by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Since 2009, the TRC has organized events across the country to listen to stories of survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools (IRS).

Over the course of more than a century, the families of approximately 150,000 children, some as young as three years old, were forced to send their children to IRS; and more than 6,000 children died in the schools, with many others never returning home. Many thousands of indigenous people in Canada continue to suffer the generational impacts of the IRS policy. The schools were a policy of the British, followed by Canadian governments and were implemented by the churches (Presbyterian, Anglican, United and Catholic). Some of the schools were sites of food and drug experimentation. All the schools used the labour of children to survive. Sexual and physical abuses were rampant.

The TRC used a storytelling approach to create safe spaces that might assist survivors and their families to heal, and to educate the general public, which has been deprived of knowledge about the truth of genocide as part of Canadian history. Many Canadians, including the Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLaughlin, are beginning to acknowledge the IRS as a genocidal policy. The work of recognition and reconciliation has only begun, but there is much hope.

As a small part of Canada’s movement of recognition and reconciliation, Sheila Smith, RSCJ and her colleague, Cindy Gaudet (Métis), have helped lead Saint Paul University (Ottawa) toward recognition through better integration of indigenous learning. In 2014, Phase I of an Indigenous Learning Initiative, saw more than 200 respondents answer a survey about the state of indigenous learning in post-secondary institutions in the Ottawa-Gatineau region in general, and at Saint Paul University, in particular. Additional discussions revealed:

  1. The university could benefit from the presence of elders on the campus to serve indigenous students, the wider learning community of Saint Paul University, and local communities,
  2. All at Saint Paul University could benefit from integrating indigenous ways of learning into programming.

Phase II of the Indigenous Learning Initiative is now underway to begin concretely addressing these gaps.

The Society of the Sacred Heart is a strong supporter of indigenous initiatives for better access to quality education, empowerment of women, and alleviation of poverty. We also support Saint Paul University financially. Part of the Society’s donation to Saint Paul University this year was used by the University to purchase “Easter Morning & the Sun Dances Red, Yellow, Black and White” from Zoey Wood-Salomon (Odawa). 

It is interesting to note that in the house journal in Marseille, France, it is written that Saint Madeleine Sophie believed that beauty enhanced learning. It also helps to create beautiful, welcoming spaces for all learners who come to this university, which is located on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin territory.

Contributed by Sheila Smith, RSCJ