Last Thursday, Oct. 3 was designated as Orange Day at BCSS in acknowledgment of Indian residential schools. Posters were put up in the school by the BCSS Spirit Club as a way to raise awareness about those aboriginal children who were sent to Indian Residential schools between the 1870s and 1990s.
The catalyst for the day was a trip by students and staff to Vancouver on Sept.19 to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Fostering Reconciliation through Education Day that was held at the Pacific Coliseum and PNE grounds.
By educating Canada’s youth we are one step closer to stopping the discrimination towards Canada’s Aboriginal individuals. – Sarah Filgate
Director of Instruction for School District 51 (Boundary) Doug Lacey; Marilyn Hanson, Aboriginal Education Teacher for the west end of the district; elder Joan Holmes and seven secondary students went on the trip. BCSS students Zak Pearle, Myrisa Davison, Daina Shaw, Skylar Desjardin and Sarah Filgate; and GFSS students Jazlyn Skeet and Abby Oliver joined 5,000 other secondary school students from across the province for the event.
People degrade Aboriginal people and individuals by labeling them unfairly – alcoholics, drug use, abusive, etc. The Truth and Reconciliation workshop has made me realize that it is not the way. – Myrisa Davison
“The students came back so enthusiastic about how they could educate others and make a difference,” said Hanson. On the way back from the coast the students decided they would like to see an awareness day at BCSS and everybody wear orange.
Education Day was part of the four day BC National Event - the sixth of seven mandated by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
Hanson said one of the biggest things was the film screening of Hidden Legacies by Lisa Jackson. It was previewed by all of the students in attendance and five people in the film were present for a question and answer session.
The students travelled down on Wednesday—stayed Wednesday night, attended the workshops and returned Thursday night.
Without someone with a voice and an audience to carry forward a message, there will have been neither voice nor a message to carry forward. – Zak Pearle
There were many displays and a choice of ten workshops—though most had limits on the numbers who could attend. The GFSS students attended a session called Project of the Heart, where they heard survivors tell their story and then created tiles about what reconciliation meant to them. According to Hanson children averaged only five years of age when they were forced to leave their families.
“Some finished Grade 8 and others went to Grade 12,” she said. Others had different stories. Hanson told of Michael Kusugak, an Inuit author who visited the district last year, who at the age of five was taken away from his family on a plane. “He went the one year and that was it. The next year when they heard the plane come they headed to the bush.”
Hanson said curriculum has now been developed and is in the schools to include the history of Indian residential schools in the education of young Canadians.
It is the first time in my life I was ever ashamed to be a Canadian. – Daina Shaw
She said she was struck particularly by something said by Justice Murray Sinclaire, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “What we need to do is come to terms with what has happened. I want you to do three things. I want you to watch, to listen and to show respect; and I want you to make a commitment to take care of the memories.”
She said it was this statement that brought about the Orange Day at BCSS last week.
“We have to give it the respect that it deserves, because it was a part of our history and we have to be sure that we know better,” said Hanson.
Awareness of the history of Indian Residential schools is important. “If you ask kids what are residential schools a lot of them would go, “I don’t know or I don’t care. “But to hear real people talking about real stories and real effects—not just on their lives because they were survivors but on the intergenerational difficulties that were caused by residential schools.”
“When we walk side-by-side we are all affected. Reconciliation implies that it’s not just one side working hard. Its everybody working together to make sure that it never happens again.”
Residential schools notes - Source: TCR Interim Report, 2012:
From the 1870s to the 1990s, the Canadian government, often in partnership with a number of Christian churches, operated a residential school system.
The purpose of the schools was to assimilate Aboriginal people forcibly into the Canadian mainstream by eliminating parental and community involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were sent to residential schools, and it is estimated that 80,000 former students are still living.
The largest class-action settlement in Canadian history was resolved in 2007 with the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. In addition to providing compensation to former students, the Agreement established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) with a budget of $60-million and a five-year term.
The TRC was established by Order-in-Council in June 2008, though a year was lost when the original commissioners resigned. In July of 2009 three new Commissioners: Justice Murray Sinclair as chair, Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson were appointed.
According to the TCR Interim Report filed in 2012 the work of the Commission has been hindered in several ways and the Commission expects its budget authority will expire before it will complete all the work it has been mandated to perform.
What the TRC has heard from survivors of the Indian Residential School system:
In the words of countless students, it was a frightening, degrading, and humiliating experience.
The only Aboriginal people they could recall from their history books were savages and heathen, responsible for the deaths of priests.
People spoke of being sexually abused within days of arriving at residential school. In some cases, they were abused by staff; in others, by older students. Reports of abuse have come from all parts of the country and all types of schools.
Students repeatedly told the Commission of being punished for speaking their traditional languages. People were made to feel ashamed of their language—even if they could speak it, they would not, and they did not teach it to their children.
This happened to little children who had no control over their lives and whose parents found themselves powerless to prevent their children from being taken from them.
People no longer felt connected to their parents or their families. In some cases, they said they felt ashamed of themselves, their parents, and their culture. The Commission heard from children who found it difficult to forgive their parents for sending them to residential school.
Some said they felt useless in their community. Still others compared themselves to lost souls, unable to go forward, unable to go back. Many people lost years of their lives to alcohol, to drugs, or to the streets as they sought a way to dull the pain of not belonging anywhere. Deprived of their own sense of self-worth they had spent decades wandering in despair.
People spoke of the former students who met violent ends: in accidents, at the hands of others, or, all too often, at their own hands.
Church representatives spoke about the difficult experience of learning such distressing truths about their own church’s past. They are struggling to rethink their theology and their mission in an effort to right the relationship between their church and Aboriginal peoples.
The truth about the residential school system will cause many Canadians to see their country differently. These are hard truths, but only by coming to grips with these truths can we lay the foundation for reconciliation.
The Commission has concluded that:
- Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal children.
- Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal families.
- Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal culture.
- Residential schools constituted an assault on self-governing and self-sustaining Aboriginal nations.
- The impacts of the residential school system were immediate, and have been ongoing since the earliest years of the schools.
- Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of Aboriginal societies, and the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.