After more than a century of unforgettable trauma from residential schools, Indigenous youth are now able to embrace their culture and identity in a way that hasn’t been possible previously.
Cultural identity was stripped from older generations who were forced to attend residential schools.
“I just think that, as the first generation that didn’t have to go to residential school, I have a responsibility to have a voice for the other generations to come,” said 16-year-old Abigail Crowe.
“I had to watch my grandmother heal from her time at residential school and I just want to be part of the generation that educates others,” she added.
Crowe read a poem Monday night in Regina by the steps of the legislative building as part of a vigil commemorating the 215 children found in unmarked graves near the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
She was one of many young people using their voice and abilities to express sorrow for all the innocent children taken far too soon from their loved ones.
Kiana Francis, who is also 16 years old, started partaking in jingle dancing just three years ago and says it’s been incredibly empowering.
“My soul … it feels complete when I dance, it feels full,” explained Francis. “I dance for those who couldn’t and for those who can’t.”
Francis’ mother attended residential school. She says she can see the lasting impacts of her mother’s experiences on her upbringing.
“She never really hugged me growing up, she never really got hugged,” Francis said.
“She was never really told ‘I love you,’ by her mom and that was just something that happened because of the residential schools,” she added.
Horizin Anaquod, and his friends Keeka Mcnab and Arlee Weenie, who are all now teenagers, have been hand-drumming since they were little children — it’s a passion that was passed on to them by their grandfathers.
Anaquod says his grandfather Glen Anaquod went to Lebret Residential School in 1958 when he was just six years old. He passed away in 2011.
His experiences in residential school were documented in a movie called We Were Children, which Anaquod says was traumatizing and painful for him to watch.
“It shows like him being locked in a (storage) room in the priest’s house for a like a week with barely any food … and it was just hard for me to see my Mushum going through that,” Anaquod said.
Anaquod says when it was discovered what had happened to him, his grandfather was simply moved to another residential school where other forms of abuse continued.
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Mcnab says he’s shocked and heartbroken to hear about the atrocities that took place.
The boys say they’re committed to staying strong and to continuing on with their healing journey and helping others with theirs.
“I do this … I do it to heal for our next generation to come back stronger,” Mcnab said as he held his hand-drum close to his chest.
Weenie’s father and grandfather both do healing work within a sweat lodge and help those suffering from addiction and trauma. He says the work they do has helped him learn about the detrimental and long-lasting effects of residential schools.
When asked what he would like others to keep in mind, Weenie said he doesn’t want his people to ever give up.
“Something my grandfather always says: Ahkamêyimok — it means ‘keep trying’ in our language.”