The dark heritage of Canada’s residential schools is being formally recognized as one of the events that helped shape the country.
The federal government has put residential schools on the official list of National Historic Events.
Two of the schools — one in Nova Scotia and one in Manitoba — have been designated National Historic Sites.
Residential school survivor Ernie Daniels told Global News the designation in Portage la Prairie, Man., is a testament to the work he and others from Long Plain First Nation have done for decades to get federal recognition.
“It was a vindication for me and a number of other people that worked on this for the last 40 years, because we’ve had our frustrations, our ups and downs,” he said.
“We’ve had a long and winding road to this day, but we are resilient, and we got the job done.”
Daniels said the designation is significant for more than just the people in his community.
“Since it’s declared a national historic site, it’s now a national museum, for all the survivors,” he said.
“My community owns the building, owns the land — but the museum part of it is owned by all survivors.”
Daniels, a former student at the school, said he is still haunted by his experiences — to the point where he can’t walk into the building without smelling the chlorine he says was used to bathe the students. There are also a number of lingering unanswered questions.
“I recognize what happened to us, the dark history, and the sad history. Because a lot of children died in these residential schools, in their main home, a lot of children are still unaccounted for that have died.
“We don’t know where they are, where they’re buried. And of course a number of people who went to residential school, a lot of them have passed away to the spirit world and now we’ve got to recognize the current survivors of this system.”
Long Plain First Nation chief Dennis Meeches — who said his mother, father and grandfather all attended the school — says it’s important to mark what happened there.
“(Residential schools) have great historic significance to all Canadians,” he said. “It’s sacred and hallowed ground.
“When it comes to historic sites of Indigenous people, there’s a lot of mistruths — even in the history books. We have a lot of work to do.”
Meeches said the band, which owns the building and uses it for offices, hopes to open a national residential school museum on the site.
Jonathan Wilkinson, minister responsible for historic sites and monuments, says history has to tackle tough subjects as well as happy events.
Ry Moran of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba says Canada still has a long way to go before it can claim to tell the whole story of Indigenous people.
WIth files from The Canadian Press and Marek Tkach