By Rick Joe, teacher, Chilliwack
The first time I saw the Project of Heart Canoe was at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in September 2013. I am a canoe puller and have a high regard for canoes. I knew immediately that I wanted to participate in this initiative. At that time, I didn’t know much about the canoe. It wasn’t until I joined the BCTF Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee that I learned of the canoe’s history and travels across the province.
The canoe was carved by Derrick George, a Tsleil-Waututh carver, and his three sons. Una Ann Moyer, a Tahltan artist, took on the task of embellishing the canoe. She used tiles created by students from across the province. Each tile is a witness piece, representing something meaningful from one person’s journey of learning about residential schools.
In June, I travelled to Port Alberni to pick up the canoe and bring it to Chilliwack, where I teach. In Port Alberni, Ahousaht Elder Tim Sutherland blessed the canoe and sang a travelling song for a safe journey.
Currently, the canoe, along with the Speaking to Memory exhibit, is housed by Stó:lo Nation Research and Resource Development in Chilliwack. The Speaking to Memory exhibit is a collection of documents that share stories of residential school survivors who attended St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay.
When the canoe first arrived, we hosted a traditional Stó:lo brushing off ceremony. The canoe does important work by providing space and time for us to learn about residential schools. As people pass through and participate in this project, they share their emotions and energy with the canoe. By brushing off the canoe, we cleanse the energy and start fresh.
I am St’at’mic from the Lil’wat Nation and was honoured to be involved in the brushing off ceremony, but knew it was only appropriate for a Stó:lo- person to perform the ceremony. Previous Lieutenant Governor Steven Point completed the ceremony.
The Stó:lo Nation Research and Resource Development has an education longhouse with enough space for a class to sit with and learn from the canoe together. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has limited opportunities for classes to interact with the canoe. A group of Chilliwack teachers, including myself, were accepted into the BCTF Teacher Inquiry Project and will investigate how to create virtual learning opportunities involving the canoe as part of our inquiry.
Chilliwack is also hosting the Light Box as part of our Project of Heart exhibit. The Light Box is housed in the Chilliwack Museum. The Light Box was created by the Comox Valley School District’s Aboriginal Education Department. It has a stained-glass top with the image of the canoe. When you plug it in, the box lights up and the canoe glows.
The Light Box is a legacy project. Each local that hosts the canoe creates a legacy project, so that the learning can continue even after the canoe moves on to another local. Port Alberni created a resource bank filled with units and lesson plans as their legacy project. They have offered to share this legacy project with anyone who wants to host the canoe.
The Project of Heart Canoe has toured the province, visiting different locals and creating lasting and dynamic relationships. The canoe gives us an opportunity to take time to learn about residential schools. It brings history into the present and helps us understand that residential schools are not simply something from the past. Together, Chilliwack teachers and students will be working on a legacy project from our time with the canoe. It is my hope that we will use this opportunity to honour the students who attended residential schools and create a lasting legacy in our local before the canoe continues its journey to spread its teachings in another local.
I want to thank my wife, Peggy Janicki, and our friend, Lillian Morton, for their help getting the canoe to Chilliwack. The work of the Aboriginal Education Departments from Comox Valley and Port Alberni is very much appreciated. Each local, and each person involved in this project, has taken care of the canoe in a good way. My hope is that every local will have a chance to host and learn from the Project of Heart Canoe.