Today is a hugely significant day finally serving as a commemoration of both the survivors and deaths of Indigenous children as a result of Residential schools. It also honours their families and communities, torn apart by such an atrocious and longstanding act. It’s crucial to remember that the harm it caused is not anchored in the past, but lives on in the heart of Indigenous communities. The trauma is one that has been passed down generationally, leaving a scar that will never heal. It’s a huge factor as to why suicide rates are highest in such communities; a tragic fact that makes me want to pursue part of my psychological career among these people.
We can’t change the past. We can’t change the horrors of what these children went through. What their families faced after having their children forcibly ripped from them. We can’t change the unmarked graveyards being discovered as we speak. It’s a powerless position, but it CAN’T be. Power, rights, culture, land and so much more was taken away from these people. We have those things, and thus we have a responsibility to at the mere minimum, educate ourselves on what happened. On what STILL happens.
I was very privileged to take part in a class exercise this past Tuesday. Our teacher could’ve made it a regular course lecture, or spoken about these atrocities. Instead he did so much more. We spent the class outside, taking part in a commemorative and educational exercise. We spread out blankets to represent the land of Indigenous peoples before white Europeans arrived to conquer and dominate. We were inhabitants, freely walking about…while our teacher and a volunteer narrated key parts of history from European arrival to the closing of the last Residential schools. The volunteer read excerpts of European mandates while removing blankets to symbolically represent the loss of land. We were gradually separated, distanced from each other as we were explained what happened to different tribes. Classmates read out different parts of history as some students were taken off the blankets, symbolizing the death of so many Indigenous people. Some of us were given a ‘child’ at the beginning and I was one of them. I sat on a blanket with one other person, isolated from the others, part of a tribe sent way up North as part of solving the ‘Native Problem’. We learned that our sled and hunting dogs were being killed to keep us from feeding ourselves and making our way to other communities. Eventually I had my child removed from me.
The fact that we weren’t merely reading or listening brought the message home tremendously. Speaking personally, each action brought me closer to the horrendous reality of what happened. I was almost in tears and very angry when my ‘child’ was taken away. Just imagining the unfathomable was … truly beyond words. We had a discussion in a circle at the end each sharing our thoughts and/or what we had taken away from the exercise. I expressed my anger at being forced to take 2 years of Quebec history in High School that covered only the English-French conflict and spent about 15 minutes on the topic of Indigenous peoples and what was done to them. How could our government gloss over the fact that neither country belonged here and had a right to do what they did. What we did. What some of my ancestors perhaps did. I feel fortunate to have some Indigenous ancestry…a part of me that keeps me more closely connected to this.
There are no proper words of apology. Nothing that can undo what has been done. Nothing that can heal those inflicted with so much pain. This is pitifully small, but I am sorry. I didn’t do it myself, but I’m here as a result of what happened. I’m on unceded land. The college I go to is on unceded land. And I don’t ever want to forget that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that humans have the capability, will and rationalizations to do such inhuman things and most often without remorse.
Let’s take a minute to remember and absorb that tremendous injustice is not foreign. It’s not just Nazi Germany. It’s not just Apartheid. It’s not just slavery. It was here. It was in Canada, it was in Quebec, and our confederation, no, our country, was built on it.
Lastly, this is what our teacher offered to us at the end of class. I’m proud and honoured to carry it with me.