St. Pat’s students honour residential school survivors, families (GALLERY)

Art installation officially unveiled at St. Patrick's Catholic High School. May 30, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

An art installation to honour residential school survivors and their families has been unveiled at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School.

Members of the youth leadership team officially presented the exhibit on Monday.

Indigenous Education Lead Cortnee Goure said 18 youths were involved in the permanent display and began working on the project in August, with help from Artist Moses Lunham and Barry and Debbie Milliken. Goure said she is amazed and proud of what the students accomplished.

“I’m proud of the youth and proud of the relationships with the elders and the knowledge keepers too to be able to bring this to life and to be able to have a lasting piece as well,” she said.

Smudging was done as part of the opening ceremony. May 30, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

Students from other classes filled the hallway as the ceremony began with smudging and included prayer, traditional drumming, and speeches.

“We worked together all year on this installation for it to be a lasting piece, not only for learning but for healing,” said Goure. “As you enter the space, you’re learning already. At the beginning of the art installation is the flower that’s representing language, culture, identity, and family — everything that was there before residential schools. As you approach residential schools, that was taken away. As you continue, you can see the seeds that are blossoming and blooming to the future, which is the hope for language, culture, and identity to be [returned].”

Above the permanent space, read “When they buried us… they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Barry and Debbie Milliken also noted another special aspect of the art installation. Hanging from the ceiling was material meant to symbolize the spirits floating to what’s referred to as the “star world”.

“I think the present generation is beginning to understand what took place and many of our people also need to be updated, so to speak, about our past. We see the results of it, or the consequences, in our community still today,” said Barry. “So to see it here addressed in this good way, in this proper way with respect … it’s good to see.”

Debbie Milliken speaks with students and staff outside of St. Patrick’s Catholic High School. May 30, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

Debbie also said she was incredibly proud of the school for displaying this piece.

“We were part of that past… that’s where we came from. So to see the kids now and seeing this whole hallway filled with kids and the respect that they all showed each other, it makes you feel really good inside,” said Debbie.

The art installation also included three QR codes, which can be used to find out more information about residential schools and Indigenous history.

The unveiling at St. Pat’s comes about one year after a devastating anniversary, the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School site in British Columbia was announced in late May 2021.

Superintendent of Secondary Schools Chris Kehoe. May 30, 2022. May 28, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

Superintendent of Secondary Schools Chris Kehoe said it was a “powerful” afternoon.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to see the work our students did, and have done, and continue to do. To build all of our understanding, to build healthier communities, and to build a healing relationship.”

Schools under the St. Clair Catholic District School Board will also take part in special learning programs throughout National Indigenous People’s History Month, observed in June.