Approximately 40 students and myself boarded a bus to Brantford, Ont. Sept.18. Our destination was to visit the Mush Hole Project, a free three-day guided tour event that aims to educate its visitors about the realities of residential schools in Canada. Students who were interested had the option of signing up to be driven to and from the school and the university.
As soon as we arrived at the venue, we were each given a brick, a permanent marker, and a facemask. Instructions were given to write a message to the students who lived in the school as a way of remembrance.
According to the brochure handed to all visitors, the project has three objectives: to acknowledge the residential school legacy, to challenge the concepts of “truth” and “reconciliation”, and to practice interdisciplinary art and performative methods of decolonization.
According to Ava Hill, the Six Nations’ elected council, “It is important for mainstream Canada to understand the history of residential schools. They need to understand what happened to our people by the government of the day. It is to blame for many of the social problems still being experienced today.”
While it was extremely eye-opening to tour the school, it was an even more enriching experience to be accompanied by Geronimo, who was forced to attend the Mohawk Institute Residential schools from the young age of six. He remained there for 11 more years. Through his eyes, the basement that the boys were locked in seemed all the more disturbing and sad.
The name of the project itself is not a mistake, and is derived from the history of the school. According to Geronimo, all throughout his time as a student, the children were fed oatmeal that was overcooked for such a long time it eventually turned to mush. This meal was never enough for them and most days they left the dining hall still hungry. When the city of Brantford opened up a dump right behind the school, the boys would find time to sneak over and rummage for leftover pastries and candies. Meanwhile, the teachers, and ministers were fed balanced diets consisting of eggs, bread, and bacon.
The last of the residential schools closed a mere 20 years ago in Prince Edward Island, so they haven’t been abolished for as long as we would like to think.
The Mush Hole Project takes respect for the land very seriously; or rather, respect for the aboriginals who owned the land, and their customs. This was portrayed explicitly during the fire pit prayer session. As we approached the pit, we were instructed to make a circle around it, but only by walking in an orderly counter-clockwise formation, due to the fact that it was the custom of the tribes that inhabited the very space we were standing on.
For more information check out http://www.mushholeproject.ca.