Gatineau Students’ First Annual Pow Wow a perfect opportunity to support J4IW

Deepening their learning and taking concrete action went hand-in-hand for students in In Lisa Howell’s Grade ⅚ class at Pierre Elliott Trudeau School in Gatineau, Quebec, who piggybacked on the school’s first ever Pow Wow –held on May 18 –to fundraise $200.00 for J4IW.


“The students at our school have been participating in Project of Heart for over five years now,” teacher Lisa Howell said. “So the idea of using the gestures of reconciliation that they created to make jewelry to raise awareness and support Justice for Indigenous Women really made sense to them.”


The students had done Project of Heart and furthered their learning about Indian Residential Schools during the month of February, along with 120 other students at the school, some as young as six years old. Elder and residential school survivor Mary-Lou Iahtail, from Attawapiskat First Nation, came to speak to the students and to smudge their tiles in March. 


“The students are absolutely transfixed by Mary-Lou. She has been working with us for many years now, and each and every time she shares her story of being taken from her family when she was 8 years old, there is silence in the room,” Howell explained. “Mary-Lou speaks honestly to the children about how hard it was, and how she lost so much. But she also speaks of forgiveness and healing. The children hug Mary-Lou after the ceremony, and then they want to do something to make this better.”


Other years, the students at Pierre Elliott Trudeau School have taken part in “Have a Heart Day” activities on Parliament Hill, as well as marches for “Our Dreams Matter Too”. They have also been passionate supporters of “Shannen’s Dream” and written countless letters to the Prime Minister, Premiers and local politicians.


This term, the students were learning about missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families, while also planning a first-ever Pow Wow at their school. They wanted to honour the lives of the women and families by creating a display of Red Dresses at the event. ( Each student at the school was invited to create a picture of a red dress after learning about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women from the school’s Indigenous Cultural Youth Worker, Aisha Thomas. The red dresses were a prominent feature at the powwow, allowing people to reflect and learn about the lives of the missing and murdered women.


A week before the pow wow, the students set to work making the jewelry using the gestures of reconciliation they had made.  “None of my students had ever made jewelry before,” Howell laughs. “I think they thought I was crazy putting wire cutters and jump rings into their hands. But they knew that this was important work, and that by doing this, they were part of the change, not the problem. They really want to help Indigenous women and girls get justice. ”


The students treated each tile with care, first applying “modge podge” ( a special kind of glue)then patiently wrapping the wire around each one, adding the beads and the jump ring, and finally using the flat nose pliers to twist the wire tightly around the tile.


When the day of the pow wow arrived, and the students and their teachers set up the Red Dresses as well as a table with the J4IW jewelry.


“The Red Dress display really shocked many people,” Howell reflects. “It is so haunting when you see the red dresses hanging in the trees, unassuming, not asking to be noticed. But you do notice, and when you realise what they represent- hundreds upon hundreds of missing indigenous women and girls- the heart is called to action. This is what the J4IW campaign is all about. It is a “call to caring,” a simple yet extraordinarily profound way to be part of reconciliation and justice. The elementary students who made these necklaces to teach others and help J4IW support Indigenous women and girls are inspirational and show that anyone can be part of the J4IW project .”


The indigenous students who were dancing at the powwow not only got to show their non-indigenous friends their regalia and their dance moves, they also got to see that they have true allies in their school community. The students raised $200.00 from their jewelry fundraiser, which they donated to J4IW.