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B.C. high school unveils art attempting to bridge truth and reconciliation

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A high school class in Metro Vancouver chose National Indigenous People’s Day to unveil a piece of art which students hope will continue to educate and inspire for years to come.

Project of Heart is a mosaic made up of more than a thousand individual tiles, each one designed and created by a different student or faculty member at Coquitlam's Centennial Secondary School.

The large artwork features a breaching orca in the foreground with mountains in the background and both a sun and moon in the sky.

"It’s more special because everyone took part in it and learned the meaning of it" said Grade 11 student Jireh Pontaov.

The project was undertaken by students taking BC First Peoples 12, a class that offers an in-depth curriculum on the history of First Nations in B.C. and the ways in which colonialism has impacted them.

"We should learn about what happened, their history and everything that they went through,” said Michelle Abdalla, also a Grade 11 student. "I think it’s important to learn more about them and they should be heard."

Lucia Sousa-Quong has been teaching the course for more than a decade.

She often invites guest speakers who can share moving first-hand accounts of their own experiences and those of family members and ancestors.

"Sharing that with students is really important so they can move forward," said Sousa-Quoung.

"When they get to witness things like a residential school survivor, that is something that I hope carries with them forever."

The idea for the mosaic came about after last year’s announcement of 215 probable unmarked children’s graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Many of the tiles feature words or art inspired by the missing children.

Grade 12 student Cameron Keeskotagan is Cree and his family comes from Saskatchewan.

Along with other students and a teacher, he drummed and sang at the unveiling.

"It’s just a big step. It’s very important that everyone gets to see our art, our culture, especially on this land," he said about the importance of learning about the colonial forces that have brought First Nations and Canada to this critical point in our shared history.

Project of Heart will hang prominently in the school's hallway at so future generations can connect with and learn from it.

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