EDMONTON – For over 100 years, Aboriginal children in Alberta and across Canada were sent to residential schools. It was in these schools where Aboriginal people say they were stripped of their language, cultural identity and traditions.
During day two of Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Edmonton, several residential school survivors shared their stories of abuse and survival.
Donald Morin was among them.
“My step siblings and I were apprehended from our mother,” Morin explained. “All of our hair was cut off and then we were separated.”
Many of the hundreds of people in the audience were brought to tears as they listened intently.
“It was like living like a dog. A society which at one time wanted the Indian child dead, buried or just plain forgotten.”
Vincent Yellow Old Woman, who spent nine years in residential school, says while painful, it’s important for everyone to hear and understand their stories, in order to inspire change.
“Now that we’ve acknowledged it, we’re beginning to deal with it. And then we can work together on how to move forward,” he explained.
“We need to really change the soul of this country by having all Canadians embrace each other in a different way than they have ever done before,” added Robert Joseph, with Reconciliation Canada.
Edmonton is the TRC’s seventh and last stop in a nation-wide tour of hearings. What happens from here is not clear, but those involved say it can’t be the end of discussion surrounding residential schools.
“It’s made a huge difference,” Joseph said of the hearings. “I think there’s almost like a tsunami of will to begin to turn our attention to the issue of our relationships.”
Mayor Don Iveson has proclaimed one year of reconciliation in Edmonton – from March 2014 to March 2015. With the proclamation, Iveson will bring forward three initiatives to help strengthen relationships with Aboriginal communities.
Iveson’s commitments include:
- Creating an urban Aboriginal youth leadership initiative to increase participation in civic programs and services, fill gaps in current programming and enable youth to explore career opportunities in the public service
- Developing an education program for city staff that shares the history of residential schools, their impact on Aboriginal peoples, and opens dialogue on reconciliation in the workplace
- Working with Edmonton’s Aboriginal community to create and support a venue, or venues, to promote the spiritual and cultural practices of all indigenous communities, for cultural reconnection, ceremony and celebration
“I am responsible to call upon myself and my fellow leaders to be the keepers of history,” said Iveson. “It is a role I accept with great pride and dedication. The road to reconciliation is long and difficult, but with the right commitments from City Council, I believe we can build positive relationships with Aboriginal communities based on mutual respect and understanding of a shared history.”
Above this, the province has committed to including the history of residential schools in its curriculum, a move that’s welcomed by survivors.
“I’m really inspired by it. I think that we can move forward together,” Joseph said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be easy… But we’re here, we have this opportunity, we stand in the threshold of moving forward in ways we’ve never done before.”
The TRC hearings wrap up on Sunday. The event schedule has been posted below:
With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.