Westridge student Raven Rocha and Burnaby Village Museum programmer Nicole Preissl unveil the reconciliation crosswalk design, slated for Union Street this summer. (Curtis Seufert / Burnaby Beacon)

Paving the way with community: Burnaby’s student-led ‘reconciliation crosswalk’ unveiled

Students from Westridge Elementary in North Burnaby have led the effort to install the crosswalk after learning about Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action in class.

By Curtis Seufert | June 21, 2022 |5:00 am

The City of Burnaby and School District 41 unveiled Burnaby’s first “reconciliation crosswalk” design yesterday, led by students at an elementary school in North Burnaby, and designed by Coast Salish artist Atheana Picha.

The idea for the crosswalk came from a grade 6/7 class at Westridge Elementary who was learning about the Truth and Reconciliation Commision and its 94 Calls to Action. While learning about the Calls to Action, students decided they wanted to take their learning a step further, and translate their knowledge into an action of their own.

The class focused on Call to Action #82, to “install a publicly accessible, highly visible Residential Schools Monument… to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.”

The students selected a crosswalk for a monument, and successfully applied for a $750 grant from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation for their idea.

“It was a very long process, but it was definitely filled with a lot of dedication,” said Mana Ahmadi, a Westridge Elementary student. “We wanted to do this so people would be able to take a bit of their time from their day, and really think of the meaning of the crosswalk, and this process of Truth and Reconciliation.”

Reconciliation Crosswalk
Westridge students speak about making their reconciliation crosswalk idea a reality, before the design’s unveiling. (Curtis Seufert / Burnaby Beacon)

The students thought it was important to not just lead this project on their own, but to collaborate with the community in the reconciliatory action as well: an idea that one student hopes community members reflect upon when crossing by.

“[We hope] they notice that everybody has a part to play in Truth and Reconciliation. It can’t just be one person,” said student Raven Rocha. “Truth and Reconciliation needs to be [done] as a community.”

The students brought in parents, caregivers, and other community members when deciding on the location, landing on the area where the Drummond’s Walk Urban Trail intersects with Union Street.

And after reaching out to the city for further funding and approval, they were connected with Atheana Picha, a Coast Salish artist from the Kwantlen First Nation, with experience in other pieces of public art in Burnaby and Metro Vancouver.

Nicole Preissl is an Indigenous education programmer at the Burnaby Village Museum who helped put the students in touch with Picha. She told the Beacon Picha was very impressed with the thought and care that students had put into their idea.

“The thing she was most impressed with was how students were really dedicated to moving forward together,” said Preissl. “I think we often find that reconciliation can feel like a one-sided thing. But these students were really like, ‘No, we want to do this together, we want to do this as part of a team, as a community.’”

Picha then collaborated with the kids, working with them to incorporate some of their ideas into the design. The end result was a black and white set of twin Thunderbirds approaching one another.

While Picha wasn’t able to attend the unveiling ceremony, Preissl said that, according to Picha, the design is meant to represent strength, commitment, bravery and coming together.

“That’s why she chose the two Thunderbirds coming together: two different sides coming together to progress forward into the future,” said Preissl. “And she chose the Thunderbird because it’s represented in so many different Indigenous cultures across Turtle Island, across the world. And it’s often a symbol of bravery and strength, looking after one’s community.”

While the crosswalk has not yet been completed, the city and school wanted to celebrate the crosswalk’s unveiling with the students who led the project since the grade 7’s will be graduating at the end of the school year.

The city says the crosswalk design should be completed some time this summer.

Curtis Seufert

Curtis is a summer editorial intern with Burnaby Beacon.

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