Born out of a response to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Roots of Growth project is reaching maturation as it officially launches at the University of Lethbridge.

The project is a student-led initiative stemming from a course assignment that called students to create a theoretical project based on one of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. The project focuses on call to action 74, which calls on the government to assist Indigenous families in commemorating the children who died at residential schools.

Cierra Ross and Aysha Partington are the student leads on the project, which aims to memorialize the victims and survivors of the residential schooling system by planting four native trees across campus.

Both Cierra and Aysha were in the First Nations Transition Program, now known as the Indigenous Student Success Cohort (ISSC), when they received this assignment. Cierra says when she started working on the project, she was not aware of the extent of the missing children in residential schools, and wanted to create a positive memorial in response. Trees were chosen as the memorial as they represent earth and something that creates a common connection among people.

“For us, this tree, it gives back. It's that circle of life. In Indigenous ways, we're very connected to the earth, the earth is everything. We wanted a full-grown tree, to represent that history that has already happened, but it's how we move forward from here,” she says.

“You can't see the roots of a tree. What's underground, it represents the intergenerational trauma that residential schools created, like what these kids had to face or the parents waiting for their child to come home and they never made it home. It's things that we don't see that we want to promote. Being together as community and bridging that gap that we face today.”

The project turned from theoretical to applied with the help of Agility, which assisted in fundraising and promotion of the initiative. Through Agility, the Roots of Growth project has been able to connect with the wider university community to bring Cierra and Aysha’s work to fruition.

As a result of the project, three trees and two bushes have been planted around the ULethbridge campus—a Lodge Pole Pine, a Golden Willow, a Sergeant Poplar and two Saskatoon Berry bushes. Aysha says the plants were chosen in consultation with Indigenous Elders.

“Consulting Elders was so important to us because the residential school story is not ours to tell. We really wanted to make sure everything was done the right way.”

Cierra echoes this and emphasizes the time they took to ensure the project was done correctly and respectfully.

“Each tree has a significance to Indigenous culture. We're still working with Elder Mike Bruised Head to get the official definition for each tree. We chose four things because it represents the medicine wheel, which has the four sections and symbolizes the sacred number four.”

Map of the trees on the ULethbridge campus.

For Aysha and Cierra, the best part of launching the project is getting the community involved properly and educating the community about Indigenous history.

“Now more than ever, finally letting people in on this is going to be so important, especially with the discoveries of the missing children. We want to continue the conversation, but we don't want it just to end there,” Cierra says.

“You need the truth in order to have reconciliation,” Cierra concludes. “This is just the first step.”

“We have done funerals and memorials to give closure and peace. We want to bring the community together and talk about it. For us, we're here to be a support to help everyone move forward in the way that they can. Mike Bruised Head, he told me he doesn't think they will ever heal from it, but it's how we can move forward. For us, this is moving forward, bridging the gap between the community.”

Eventually, the project team hopes expand the initiative to other cities and residential school sites.

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