When I was a little girl, I would that a reoccurring nightmare that my parents would bring me to a school and then leave me. They would tell me to study hard, give me a few pennies, and then they would walk away.
This dream wasn’t based on anything other than a childhood separation anxiety. They never left me behind and I grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.
I knew where my people came from and I knew that our connection to that place ran deep. Today when I return to Prince Edward Island, where my family has been for generations, I feel rooted.
What would it feel like to be cheated of that sense of belonging?
Welcome to Canada’s legacy of Indian Residential Schools.
Most of us are aware of this dark stain on Canadian history. Yet, I wonder if we have come to terms with just how much residential schools are still impacting aboriginal families.
There are no words to describe how traumatic it must have been for children to be yanked out of their communities and sent in float planes or put on buses to attend a church run school.
Why? Because they were “Indian” and they had to be educated in the modern world if they were going to succeed. It was the law and most parents had little choice but to dress their small children in their Sunday best and send them to white man’s school.
Today in Yellowknife, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings made their first NWT stop. Former students gave testimonials of what they went through and how it’s impacted their lives.
One man shared a story about being forced to leave his home at eight years old and not returning until he was sixteen. He had been forbidden to speak Inuktitut, so he lost his language. He endured years of physical and mental abuse at the school. I heard several stories about children were sent away to school. When they came back – in some cases years later – they found out their parents had died while they were gone.
It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories but it’s so important to listen and to bare witness to what happened and what can never happen again.
I think of the little children, so innocent, being shipped off far away from their parents and from everything they knew. I also think of the childless parents, left behind, thinking they were doing what was right for their child but heart broken because they didn’t have any children to raise. These are scars that, for some, never heal. The suicides, the booze, the drugs, the abuse are emblems of those scars.
The logo on the Truth and Reconciliation banner is ‘For Every Child Taken, For Every Parent Left Behind’.
I thank everyone that got up and told their story. They had to get off their chest and we had to hear it.
This is year one of a five year process that involves hearings as well as settlements. Telling these stories is part of the healing process but it’s only part of the path. There HAS to be services out there to help people who heal. The hypocrisy of Harper’s apology to residential school survivors in 2008 when the Conservative government has just announced cuts to the Aboriginal Healing foundation is unacceptable.
FROM CBC ARCHIVES:
In 1928, a government official predicted Canada would end its “Indian problem” within two generations. Church-run, government-funded residential schools for native children were supposed to prepare them for life in white society. But the aims of assimilation meant devastation for those who were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Decades later, aboriginal people began to share their stories and demand acknowledgement of — and compensation for — their stolen childhoods.