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Wisdom: The SOAR project

The intent of the project is to increase awareness and commemorate the history and legacy of St. Joseph’s Residential School in Thunder Bay by making the truth about the residential schools widely accessible through a research report and a curriculum.
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THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay Public Library has released the first episode of a five-episode series of podcasts that details the stories of the survivors of St. Joseph’s Residential School as part of the Stories of Anishinaabe Resilience Project (SOAR).

“It’s important because a lot of Indigenous voices who attended St. Joseph’s are missing from the local story of St. Joseph’s and Thunder Bay,” said Robyn Medicine, community hub, library, and Indigenous relationships supervisor.

“So the podcast is called Stories of Anishinaabe Resilience because of the fact they’re still here despite attending St. Joseph’s for however many years they attended. They’re still here and it shows the resilience of the Indigenous people.”

The goal of the multi-faceted SOAR project is to increase awareness and honour residential school survivors, their families, and communities, and also to commemorate the history and legacy of St. Joseph’s Residential School.

“The local narrative here in Thunder Bay is that St. Joseph’s was just a boarding school or an orphanage, but it wasn’t just that,” said Medicine.

“It may have started off as a boarding school or an orphanage, but over the years they were going to shut down but then they applied for funding to operate as a residential school.”

Part of the project is a Research report written by Sarah McPherson, HBa, on the establishment, location and movement, policies and everyday goings-on, and the closure and tearing down of St. Joseph's Residential School, as well as testimonials and records of survivor experiences there.

A secondary level education curriculum was also developed by Johanna Mousseau-Krahn, Bed, and the unit is cross-curricular; each lesson incorporates curriculum expectations from different curricula between Grades 9 and 12, including the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Studies curriculum (2019), the English curriculum (2007), the Canadian World Studies curriculum (2018), the Arts curriculum (2010), and other curricula that might not be explicitly addressed in the lesson plans.

To go along with the new learning resources, several painted art pieces by Quill Christie-Peters, Rufus Moonias, and Brian Michon have been or will be installed at Brodie and Waverley Resource Libraries. Each piece commemorates and honours the survivors of St. Joseph's Residential School.

And the last and most important part of the podcast is the podcast where listeners are connected with residential school survivors and family members who open up about their personal experiences at the school known as the "boarding school".

The first episode of the podcast aired on April 14 and features Summer Reilly, granddaughter of the late Dolores Wawia, talking about her grandmother’s life and her time at St. Joseph’s.

“She was well known in the community she has made many contributions to Indigenous education and I really wanted to include her in this project and the podcast specifically, but, unfortunately, she had passed away during the early planning stages of the project,” said Medicine.

“It was heartbreaking to learn of her passing”

The episodes of the podcast are going to be aired every month for the next four months on many streaming services.

For more information about the SOAR project, visit the Thunder Bay Public Library’s website.

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