Like many Canadians, the staff members of Colebrook Elementary School in Surrey, BC, were shocked and saddened when it was confirmed that 215 Indigenous children were buried at the site of the former residential school in Kamloops. As part of our Kamloops 215 memorial (the memorial was for 215 hours/9 days) our students coloured hearts designed by Michelle Stoney, a Gitxsan artist, which were displayed in the school’s front yard and smudged by our Aboriginal Lead Teacher, Corry Bell. I was inspired to write a poem for this occasion and was asked by my principal to recite this during the program on the last day. Afterwards, the students took home the hearts they had coloured.
Inspiration for the poem came in part from my first years in Canada, which were spent teaching the children of the Nisga’a First Nation in northwest BC. My EA, Ferdelia Moore, a residential school survivor, still could not bring herself to speak about her experience on Orange Shirt Day, decades later.
What is the significance of a heart?
Do you even know where to start?
The centre of life, beating air
To the brain, through the blood, goes everywhere.
This heart you made holds plenty of feeling For the children, lost without meaning
Gone for years, until they were found
Their remains buried in the cold, hard ground.
All reasons for their mistreatment were flawed From those who have come from abroad Who only took and never gave
Except for pain and death; no one was saved.
Two hundred fifteen unidentified. Representing love side by side –
These hearts were displayed for a while For the purest of souls who have no guile.
Take your heart home, put it where you can see Each day think of them faithfully
Those residential school students,
Who never made it home to their parents.
For all of us who are here, are settlers – Uninvited interlopers
Unless you can trace native roots
From time immemorial, buds and shoots.
Don’t just think, but also talk, even write! Action is best, make your light bright
To shine on Indigenous folk
Let’s take on their burden, shoulder their yoke.
Give back what is owed to them, do what’s right! Let us, every one, join the fight
For fair compensation and lands
To be provided to all native bands.
And the time for us to act must be now
So with me come, as allies, vow
I will do my part for my hosts
For my friends, these won’t be just empty boasts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Regie Marie Plana-Alcuaz
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2021 issue.