Josiah Ferguson may only be eight years old but his vision for reconciliation demonstrates wisdom beyond his years.
A poster he created about healing from the damage done by residential schools — with a focus on kindness and friendship — won him a visit to Canada’s capital.
The Langley Meadows Elementary student, was one of 10 recipients of “Imagine a Canada,” a national art initiative that asked young people to share their thoughts on what the future of Canada will look like through the lens of reconciliation.
The Fergusons attended a ceremony for the winners at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on March 1.
Josiah created the poster in his class after they learned about the history of residential schools.
“The two hands mean Aboriginals and Canadians reaching out to each other in friendship and acceptance,” he explained.
“When our hands connect in friendship and peace, then our hearts can be filled with kindness and love.”
He learned about how Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to residential schools far away.
He learned that the goal of the government was to take away their culture and language.
“If the boys had long hair, which was an important symbol for their people, they had to cut it off,” he said.
Brothers and sisters couldn’t play together.
“This made me sad,” he added.
Josiah’s dad, Danny, said his son has taught their family a lot about residential schools that they didn’t learn when they were students.
This year, the provincial government made it mandatory to include Aboriginal history and culture in the B.C. curriculum.
“When you look at my art remember that we need to treat people properly — the way they were meant to be treated. Make friends, be kind and be nice,” said Josiah.
To attend the ceremony, Josiah took his first plane ride to Ottawa, where he was honoured at the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall.
Josiah and his family met the Governor General and were shown around.
“We went to the Wabano Centre and on the tour I got to learn all about how the Aboriginal people are working to be healed from the past,” he said of his trip.
“I even saw a brick from one of the residential schools they keep there to remember some of the kids that died at the schools and never got to see their families again. That made me real sad.”
He also got to meet other kids and talk about how to make the future better for Aboriginals and all Canadians.
The students’ art will be put on display at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
It is the permanent home for all statements, documents, and other materials gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during their multi-year investigation into Canada’s residential school system.
“It is deeply inspiring to see the vision, insight and power of these young people’s words and art,” said Ry Moran, director of the NCTR.
“Their compassion and empathy should give us all hope for a much brighter tomorrow.”