Watch above: Shannon Greer reports on the struggles being faced by aboriginal youth
EDMONTON – Alberta students are to be taught about the horrors and the painful legacy of Indian residential schools.
The province has announced that all kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum will include mandatory content on the significance of residential schools and First Nation treaties.
Aboriginal Relations Minister Frank Oberle made the announcement to wild applause at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Edmonton before hundreds of residential school survivors and their families.
“Starting with the youngest members of our society, Alberta commits to residential school survivors, their families and communities, that Albertans will hear your stories and know your truths,” he said.
Oberle said the pledge will help heal a sad and very painful wound.
The curriculum is to include the perspectives of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples living in Alberta.
There will also be a program to ensure teachers are made fully aware of the history of residential schools and aboriginal peoples.
“May this document help to both acknowledge a great sorrow and tragedy in our joint history, yet serve as a profound starting point for a new and brighter journey together,” Oberle told the crowd, which had spent the day quietly listening to survivors of the schools recount wrenching stories of abuse.
People in the audience gave Oberle a standing ovation.
There were 25 residential schools in Alberta, more than any other province. The commission estimates there are about 12,000 survivors in Alberta.
One of them, Martha Marsden, told the crowd that the schools have been closed for years but the pain and disruption they caused continues to ripple through the aboriginal community.
She called on Canadians to be supportive, not judgemental.
“I ask other people outside our communities to understand that there is still a lot of hurt,” she said.
“There is still a lot of frustration and there are still a lot of people walking around with their demons — with all the suicides, the addictions, the abuse. And we continue to fight to be caring, loving, equal individuals.”
The federal government estimates that more than 150,000 students were forced to attend the schools over the years. The last residential school outside Regina closed in 1996.
Watch below: Edmonton Catholic reverend renews apology to those affected by residential schools
On Saturday, the commission heard from youth about the challenges they face.
While 19-year-old Elizabeth Potskin did not attend residential school, she says she was not taught her culture growing up.
“I wouldn’t say I suffered. I had really great parents, but I didn’t grow up in my culture,” she said. “I grew up with a mother, Christian, telling me that certain things I wanted to get involved in, like a sweat, was not good for me.”
Stories like Potskin’s are, in part, what prompted Ontario’s advocate for children and youth to issue a report, called Feathers of Hope, calling for a five-year plan to address the needs and difficulties facing aboriginal young people.
Premier Dave Hancock was among those who listened as young people shared their stories. He says Alberta needs to learn from the work of other provinces.
“Sometimes we talk about it as best practices. That doesn’t mean copying verbatim everything that somebody else is doing, it means learning and growing from what they’re doing and being able to utilize their work to enhance our work.”
The Edmonton event is the last of seven national commission hearings to be held across Canada.
To settle a class-action suit arising out of the residential school system, the federal government apologized and set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the abuses.
The commission is to submit a report to Ottawa, including recommendations.
Events wrap up in Edmonton on Sunday evening with a reconciliation march through the streets of downtown.
With files from Global News.