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Carrying our learning forward: 10 years of the Project of Heart Canoe

By Cheryl Carlson, teacher, Hope

For the last 10 years, the Project of Heart Canoe has been travelling around the province, visiting different schools, and bringing opportunities for learning and reflection to thousands of students in BC. This fall, Silver Creek Elementary in Hope had the privilege of hosting the canoe for its tenth anniversary celebration.

The canoe, which is covered by 6,000 tiles designed by students from across BC as witness pieces, was greeted at our school by members of the Spuzzum Nation and Una-Ann Moyer, the artist behind the Project of Heart Canoe.

All photos by Wayne Kaulbach, Sky Light Images.

First image: Maria, along with fellow students, carries the Project of Heart Canoe into her school after the cleansing ceremony. Chief James Hobart explained that this canoe is special because usually a canoe carries us to where we need to be, but this canoe gets honoured by being carried. “It gets to rest. It carries messages from across BC instead,” said Hobart. In recent years, the canoe has visited Alert Bay, Langley, Comox, Port Alberni, Chilliwack, and Mission.

Second image: After the cleansing of the canoe and paddles, student Koi works to insert paddles into the canoe to complete the art installation. Shane John from the Chawathil Nation explained that cleansing this installation is important because it carries the story of a dark and heartbreaking time in Canada’s history. The cleansing ensures we continue this learning in a good way.

All Grades 6 and 7 students were invited to witness a cleansing ceremony for the canoe led by Shane John, member of the Chawathil Nation. Chief James Hobart from the Spuzzum Nation noted that, typically, certain people are called to witness a ceremony; however, in this case, all the youth were called to witness because the Project of Heart Canoe is about collective learning and creating an opportunity for everyone to participate in healing.

The canoe is the first step of a year-long, school-wide learning experience centred on truth-telling as a path toward reconciliation. It’s important to focus on truth before reconciliation in order to meaningfully engage in reconciliation, whether with your class or on your own personal learning journey. What can reconciliation look like in an elementary school?

One step I am taking toward reconciliation with my class is to expand our use of the Halq’eméylem language in our day-to-day activities.

At our canoe welcoming ceremony, Elder Marion Dixon from the Spuzzum Nation shared some words in Nlaka’pamux. Marion is one of the last speakers of this specific dialect of Nlaka’pamux.

After listening to Marion speak, Grade 6 student Jaycee shared that, “It’s everybody’s job to make sure languages survive after residential schools tried to take them away.”

Third image: After listening to Elder Marion Dixon speak in Nlaka’pamux, Grade 6 student Jaycee (left) shared, “It’s everybody’s job to make sure languages survive after residential schools tried to take them away.” Lemiah, a fellow student, is pictured on the right.

Fourth image: Una-Ann Moyer (left), the artist who brought together tiles from students for the canoe, joined school staff to welcome the canoe through ceremony. She explained to students that the canoe is a metaphor for the Project of Heart. “In a canoe, we all pull together. We need to do the same with reconciliation. The message the canoe shares is that we are all learning, teaching, and sharing together,” said Una-Ann. Chief James Hobart is pictured centre and Elder Marion Dixon is on the right.

I want to ensure students have an opportunity to learn the language and understand the value of Indigenous languages. To do so, throughout the school year, my students and I will:

· learn Halq’eméylem words for objects we encounter regularly.

· learn Halq’eméylem place names for the areas surrounding our school and homes.

· learn Halq’eméylem names for plants and animals in our local ecosystem.

Students will also be creating their own witness pieces throughout the school year as we learn about residential schools and Canada’s colonial legacy. The witness pieces will be used for school commemoration projects that encourage all members of our communities to take pause and reflect on what truth-telling means to them.

Even though our orange shirts may be folded and put away until next September, teachers’ work to bring Indigenous languages, stories, and histories to the forefront of their teaching must continue all year. For the next seven months, the Project of Heart Canoe will serve to remind our school community of the ongoing work we must all engage in for truth and reconciliation.

Fifth image: Teachers, BCTF staff, Spuzzum Nation members, and educators with the Indigenous education department stand together with the canoe. This project exists thanks to many people contributing in different ways.


The Project of Heart Canoe is an extension of the booklet by the same name. The Project of Heart booklet is available online and in print and is meant to serve as a visual journey to support teachers in understanding and learning about the hidden history of residential schools. You can find the booklet in the “Classroom Resources” section of More information and resources are available on

The BCTF also offers a Project of Heart workshop. The workshop takes a deeper dive into the Project of Heart resources. Attendees have an opportunity to take an inquiry-based approach to examining the history and legacy of residential schools. To book this workshop, and others, including Infusing Aboriginal Content and Perspectives and Indigenous Perspectives, visit the “Services and Information” section of

If you’re interested in signing up to host the Project of Heart Canoe at your school, complete the expression of interest form at


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