MONTREAL- Alora Condo is a sixth-grader at St. Willibrord’s School in Chateauguay. As she attended the Truth and Reconciliation event at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, she was shocked by what she saw. It reminded her of experiences her Mohawk grandfather had while he was at a residential school.
“They took away their culture, their language and they replaced it with some other kind of language,” she said. “My kinds of people went to these schools, and I wish I could have helped them.”
For a lot of students in the western Montreal area, Aboriginal issues hit close to home. A full third of St. Willibrord’s School, where Condo attends, have roots in the Mohawk nation of Kahnawake nearby.
“We had so many Native students that I felt it was my responsibility to share it with them,” said Annabelle Daignault, a French teacher at the school. “We kind of learned everything together, they were shocked obviously.”
Students participated in activities such as a carpet interpretation of the European colonization of North America, where dwindling swatches of cloth represented the shrinking reality of Native life after settlers arrived.
But the Residential School system was what resonated the most with the students.
“There are more survivors than I knew,” said 12-year-old Gabriel Okinawinew. “And the survivors I do know aren’t really willing to talk about it.”
One person who did talk about her experiences was Caroline Happy Jack, a James Bay Cree from Waswanipi, Quebec who ended up getting sent off to a Mohawk residential school in Branford, Ontario.
“We had no clue where we were going, we were five years old, six years old. On the bus, by ourselves,” she said.
According to a Canadian Press story in February, there were 3,000 Aboriginal children who died while at the Residential School system.
“Seeing other children holding onto their parents’ skirts and not wanting to go because they didn’t know where they were going,” she said.