June 11, 2011

Canada Marks Third Anniversary of Residential Schools Apology

First Nations, Métis and Inuit today are marking the third anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s June 11, 2008, formal apology to their peoples for Canada’s 150-year-long residential schools program.

During this time, 150,000 children were taken from their families and put into one of 130 residential schools around the country in which they were forbidden to speak their language and were cut off from their cultures and communities. To this day 80,000 survivors and their children struggle with the legacy of what experts have termed intergenerational trauma.

But just as injuries to psyche, family and indigenous cultural fabric were wrought through the supposed education of aboriginal children, so too can education heal, said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. He used the day to push the aboriginal agenda of education reform as a way of moving forward.

“Education was used as a weapon of oppression against our people, but it can now be the key to unlock the full potential of our children, citizens, communities and governments,” he said in a statement commemorating the day. “Today, we remember the tens of thousands of First Nation children ripped from their families and communities. We honour their stories, their voices and their legacy.  As they work to heal themselves and one another, we call on all Canadians to support our call to action on First Nation education and to support fair and equitable education that values our languages and cultures.”

Considered historic, the apology given before the House of Commons also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a three-member body assigned to collect information and testimony so as to educate all of Canada about what transpired. The commissioners have conducted meetings around the country, focusing on the north over the spring, and will hold a National Event in Inuvik from June 28 through July 1.

“I had the honour to be in Parliament, with my late grandmother by my side, as the Prime Minister delivered those important words,” Atleo said of the prime minister’s speech.  “I will never forget the moment when my grandmother turned to me and said, ‘Grandson, they are beginning to see us.’ She told me of a dream of trying to lift a heavy page, and she then understood what it meant: It is now time for all of us to turn the page to a new chapter, together. That dream of reconciliation is something we must all commit to making a reality. We extend our hands to all Canadians in that spirit of partnership to work for a stronger Canada for all.”

Events were held around the country to mark the anniversary, which has officially been declared Canada’s National Day of Healing and Reconciliation. More can be learned on the schools and this era from this 2008 CBC News series.

The ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) commemorated the day as well.

“We still have a long road to travel but I believe we can do this together,” Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan said in a statement. “I look forward to the second TRC national event which will be held in Inuvik from June 28 to July 1, 2011. My department is working with other government departments to ensure a strong federal presence at this meaningful event. The TRC is an important part of the journey towards reconciliation; a journey on which we will work together to build a better future.”

The Prime Minister’s original apology speech is here. Scroll down past the speech’s text on that page for the full official video, in English and French, or see the version in English below, with some aboriginal leaders’ responses, from CanuckPolitics.com.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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June 30, 2011

Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Inuvik, NWT

The 130 or so years that Canada spent “educating” its aboriginal peoples to conform to the European mind-set have been over for some time now, but the country is only just beginning to connect the dots between those days and the damage they are still causing even today.

This week marks the second of seven National Events being held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was formed in 2008 to gather testimony and help the country make reparations to its aboriginals and promote healing. Many of the 80,000 students who survived were abused, sexually and otherwise, by personnel in the often church-run schools. Over the next four years, five more such events will take place in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan as the TRC completes its mission.

A thousand or more survivors, plus family members, supporters and other participants have gathered in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, to hear the latest testimony from former students and to better understand this chapter of the nation’s history. The event goes from June 28 through July 1.

“It’s intended as an opportunity for educating—educating widely the Canadian public about a really really important chapter of Canadian history, which was the 130 or so years when Indian Residential Schools as they were called, were run for aboriginal children in all parts of Canada. And most Canadians knew very little or nothing at all about the existence of the schools or what went on in them,” says Commissioner Marie Wilson, who is leading this event, in the following video.

The end goal is one of healing, Wilson says, so that Canadians of all stripes can “try and understand each other in a new way.”

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan also attended the event.

The hearings are being webcast.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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February 24, 2012

Aboriginals Welcome TRC Report, Emphasize Moving Forward

Aboriginal leaders welcomed the interim report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with enthusiasm tempered by a continuing call for action.

“It is necessary for the federal government and the churches to reaffirm their commitment to the important work of the TRC by addressing the obstacles identified in the interim report,” said Regional Chief Angus Toulouse of the Chiefs of Ontario. “The work of the TRC is about acknowledging the fact that First Nations culture was systemically attacked over many years and the profoundly negative consequences that this has had on First Nations people in this country. We need to collectively acknowledge that this tragedy occurred, ensure that it does not happen again and that we now must focus our efforts on finding a way to move forward together.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) reaction was equally guarded. Wrapping up a three-day National Justice Forum, which focused on reducing violence against women and children and creating safe communities, National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said the TRC’s report “draws important conclusions and points to clear steps toward reconciliation” but added, “Real reconciliation, though, is achieved through action and change. We must all work together to ensure these important recommendations are implemented in ways that address the needs of all residential schools survivors and families, and to ensure that from now on education will only be used to support and improve the continued and sustained success of First Nations as an investment in Canada’s collective future.”

The report stressed education of Canadians and families of survivors alike as linchpins along the road to recovery and reconciliation.

Explaining the complex interrelation between intergenerational trauma suffered by residential school students and aboriginal lives today is key to reconciliation and moving forward, said commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair in formally releasing the report at a press conference in Vancouver on February 24.

Sinclair said there is also an immediate and urgent need for mental-health services, especially in the north, because of the direct impact that the schools’ legacy continues to have. Overall, more understanding is needed by Canadians and survivors’ families and communities alike about what happened in the residential school era, when from the 1800s through 1996, when the last school closed, aboriginal children were taken away from their families and forced to assimilate. Of the 150,000 children who were yanked out of their environment in this manner, many were abused. Surviving former students number about 80,000.

In fact, the practice fit the United Nations definition of genocide, he said at a talk on February 18, the Canadian Press reported.

“It’s commonly said that it takes a village to raise a child,” Sinclair said. “The government of Canada took Indian children from their villages and placed them into institutions that were the furthest thing from a village that you could have. And then on top of it they destroyed their villages so that when the people left school they had no villages to go back to.”

The result, he said, is an interconnected web of poverty, a lack of leadership, and leaders who are unable to talk to their people about the future. It took seven generations to get to this level of disrepair, Sinclair said, and it may take even longer to get back.

Beacons in this wilderness are the potential of education to get the word out, and aboriginals themselves, especially those who have managed to overcome their difficulties and excel in life. Just as misguided education got Canada into this situation, so can education that teaches the facts of what happened can help the country move forward, Sinclair pointed out.

As for aboriginals who are making good, 15 examples were being honored the same evening, February 24, at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, also in Vancouver.

The commissioners said this report is a snapshot of what’s to come; the final one will be much more fleshed out. Sinclair also took the opportunity to broadcast the need for the balance of the relevant documents that the federal government and the churches that ran the schools that they promised to deliver.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comAboriginal Leaders Agree With TRC, Want Action - ICTMN.com.

TRC Leaked Report Details Suffering, Recommendations

Mental health support for survivors, education for all Canadians and a framed copy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic apology for the residential school system in every secondary school in the country.

Those are three of the main recommendations contained in the interim report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released ahead of schedule on February 23 to CBC News. The report, marking the halfway point of the commission’s five-year mandate, was leaked a day ahead of its official unveiling set for Friday February 24.

In the report the commission—comprised of chair Murray Sinclair, Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson—said they strove to speak directly to people involved in the schools, particularly students. To this end they have been holding public events all across the country since beginning their work.

What they gathered was a huge array of experience, from students who enjoyed their time at residential school, to those who survived the alienation and isolation of being cut off from their culture by participating in sports and the arts, to teachers and church members who today struggle to come to terms with the damage wrought by the practices of the schools.

And then of course there were the legions of students who were abused sexually, physically, spiritually and in every other way. Some found themselves unable to love their children but redeeming that love in interactions with their grandchildren. Others are front and center leading the way in the healing process.

“It is clear from the presentations that the people who have been damaged by the residential schools—the former students and their families—have been left to heal themselves,” the commission’s report said. “It is also the former students who have led the way to reconciliation, and they continue to lead the way. By regaining their voice, they have instigated an important national conversation. All Canadians need to engage in this work.”

Among the recommendations summarized by CBC News, the TRC said that provinces and territories should take another look at what students are taught in public schools about this era, and consider curriculum changes to fill in any gaps. The commission said that the federal government must set up counseling centers, ensure that the commission remains adequately funded and meet its mandated deadline, restore Aboriginal Healing Foundation funding and hand over all the documents that the commission needs to complete its work. In addition, attention should be paid to former students who feel left out of compensation programs, CBC News said. For all this, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be the framework for reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, CBC News reported.

The press conference releasing the report—an interim report and a historical report—is being webcast from Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (1:30 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast).

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comAboriginal Leaders Agree With TRC, Want Action - ICTMN.com.

March 8, 2012

Lakehead University Highlights Residential School Effects

Aboriginal Awareness Week at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay culminates today and tomorrow with a focus on how residential schools affected not just those students who survived them, but also the generations that followed.

Residential schools, church- and government-operated, were created in the 1870s as part of an aggressive assimilation policy by the Canadian government. At their peak in 1931, 80 schools operated around the country, and eventually 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend. Up to 80,000 of those students are still living. The last school closed in 1996.

Today the Lakehead University Aboriginal Awareness Centre and the SEVEN Youth Media Network unveil “Healing the Legacy: a Residential School Project by Youth,” a multimedia exhibit in the Agora University Centre through tomorrow.

The exhibit, which uses stories, photos and artwork submitted by young people depicting their experiences and perceptions of residential schools, was organized by SEVEN, a Thunder Bay–based group founded to give young people aged 13 to 30 who hail from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) an outlet to communicate and connect through its magazine, radio programs and website.

“The main goal for this project was to build an understanding between non-aboriginal and aboriginal people,” said SEVEN director Grace Winter.

Such a focus is especially timely and relevant given the release on February 24 of the interim report compiled by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which emphasized education as a main tool for healing and moving forward.

Non-aboriginal people, when hearing about residential school’s devastating effects on the aboriginal community, have an attitude of, ”It happened to you, get over it, it happened a long time ago,” Winter said. However, she added, “Youth are still suffering the impact. This is a way of showing [that] this is what we’re dealing with. A lot of our families don’t know how to raise families. It’s not to rub it in anybody’s face or get them to feel bad. It’s more of an open platform and discussion.”

The exhibit deals with disturbing issues, relating stories of sexual abuse, addiction and domestic violence that the young people link to the resident school experiences of the generations before them. The gathering of the stories, videos and artwork were created over the course of a year, and many can be found on the SEVEN website under “TRC Project.”

“It’s honest and it’s truthful,” Winter said of the exhibit. “I’m just really grateful that our youth had the courage to submit their stories.”

After the 1 p.m. unveiling of the exhibit on March 8, there was a lecture on “Indigeneity in Education: the Evolution of Residential Schools” given by Dennis McPherson, chair of indigenous learning at the university. At 1 p.m. on March 9, NAN Deputy Grand Chief Mike Metatwabin will speak on “Surviving and Then Working with Survivors of Residential Schools,” also in the Agora.

Lakehead University has celebrated an Aboriginal Awareness Week every March since the founding of its Aboriginal Awareness Centre in 2000. There is also a nationally designated Aboriginal Awareness Week, launched in 1992, on the four days following the Victoria Day long weekend, which this year falls from May 22–25.

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