Exploring truth and reconciliation through art

Exploring truth and reconciliation through art

By Becky Wall, Teacher, St. Patrick`s Elementary School

‘Identity’ and ‘belonging’ are strong threads that run through many ‘Big Ideas’ in a Grade 5 classroom. They are the cornerstone to understand ourselves, connecting to others and expressing who we are in our relational world and within our Church community. With support from a grant from BC ArtStarts, students in Grade 5B at St. Patrick’s School in Victoria had the opportunity to explore these concepts in an interdisciplinary arts-based inquiry project with classroom teacher Becky Wall and teaching artist Ewa Sniatycka.

This year-long process of coming to understand identity through examining the land, recording their thinking in sketch journals, studying historical artifacts, and meeting with members of various local First Peoples has culminated with their current wet-felting project–a large ‘Reconciliation Tree’ which will be completed later this year and gifted to one of the many individuals who helped make their learning possible.

During the first phase of the project, students worked with Ewa to build the skills needed to engage in arts-based research and the creative process. They learned about various frameworks from which they could engage with collective story, earth’s materials, and personal/collective identity. The sketchbook was introduced as a place to observe, record, and wonder. Here, students captured their questions, observations, and key understandings during all subjects, including a unit on student membership within the parish community.

A student records observations in his sketch book

As field notebooks, they were then used during a trip to Goldstream Park where students explored local plants, their medicinal properties, traditional First Peoples harvesting/processing practices, and local Coast Salish stories, while working with Kristin Thomas from Halalt First Nation. They compared their notes from this trip during a second trip to the Royal BC Museum where they worked with Leslie McGarry from the Kwakwaka’wakw-Kwagiulth First Nation to extend their skills for analyzing artifacts from the First Peoples’ exhibit. Both trips helped students consider how connection to the land was impacted by the introduction of the Indian Act. Their learning from these experts was pivotal in helping them to understand the significant impact that government policies had on local First Peoples and their relationships with the wider Church community.

The final phase of the project saw Ewa return to our classroom where students continued to explore historical injustices and the important steps needed to engage in a process of reconciliation.

We examined the Penitential Rite, highlighted its place within weekly Mass, and discussed steps still needed for healing to take place. To express this learning, students worked with wool as a natural resource, while constructing a wet-felted tapestry of a tree that they helped design. Students used the felting process as a way to examine the difficult work that must be done when healing a relationship–the process is slow and one learns through time and experience what is needed. As one student noted, “In the process, the wool felts together like a relationship coming back together. You can’t just quickly snap a relationship back together, as you may create further problems. The same thing is true working with wool.”

This is sure to be a meaningful and memorable way in which these students can explore the Catholic Worldview on reconciliation and its important connection to the work that is being done to rebuild relationships between local First Peoples and our Diocesan community.

While demonstrating weaving technique, Kristin Thomas shares some of the traditional harvesting practices of cedar and how local Coast Salish peoples used the plant