Students at École Westridge Elementary unveiled the design for Burnaby’s first truth and reconciliation crosswalk on Monday (June 20).
After studying the 94 Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Westridge Grade 6/7 class decided to act on Call #82, which calls on communities to install a publicly accessible and highly visible monument to residential schools.
Westridge students Raven Rocha and Mana Ahmadi said they wanted to create a monument that did more than scratch the surface of what reconciliation means in a community.
“We wanted to take it a bit deeper and really … understand what it’s about, and then wanting people to pause and think, ‘Oh, well, this is the history, and now this is moving forward,’” said Mana, Grade 6.
Raven said students learn about residential schools every year, but this year was different.
“I think this is the first year that we’ve actually dived deeper, (to) really understand the torture that Indigenous children went through during their times at residential school,” said Raven, Grade 7.
“And I think that kind of put us all into a shock and made us want to do the project even more.”
When the class considered the call for a publicly accessible monument, Raven suggested designing a crosswalk.
“We wanted something where people were able to look at it every day and really think of the meaning and the symbolism of what it was for,” said Mana.
Atheana Picha, a Salish artist from the Kwantlen First Nation, created the black and white design of two Thunderbirds.
The design will be painted at the crossing of Drummond’s Walk Urban Trail at Union Street, a well-used crosswalk both Raven and Mana said they’ve been using since kindergarten.
The class’ teacher Audrey Venner said students surveyed the Drummond’s Walk area, pausing people on their walks to ask what reconciliation means to them to understand if the location was a good spot for the crosswalk.
“We wanted to reach further than the parents and the kids, because, hopefully, the parents and the kids are already on this journey,” Venner told the NOW.
“It’s reaching out to different levels of generations.”
Students frequently visit the trail, near a wooded area which the community refers to as “the forest,” on Terry Fox runs, outdoor learning times and nature walks.
The class’ crosswalk initiative received a $750 grant from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and $20,000 from the City of Burnaby.
Squamish Nation Elder Chiaxs’tn (Wes Nahanee) opened the unveiling presentation, sharing a song.
Burnaby North Secondary School’s Indigenous youth drum group sang a good intentions song.
School board chair Jen Mezei said truth is an important part of the path to reconciliation.
“Seeing a generation of students who, their truth is what they know, and they’re not having to unlearn anything is really powerful,” Mezei said.
Raven said she hopes that people take away the idea that truth and reconciliation is done as part of a community.
“It can’t just be one person or a group of people, but everybody needs to play a role in it, and everybody should learn about it,” she said.
The unveiling of the crosswalk design comes a day before National Indigenous Peoples Day, which will be honoured in Burnaby at Edmonds Park and Plaza.
The design will be painted in the coming weeks.