Survivors of the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., are raising money to create a park on the school’s surrounding property in an effort to create more space for healing and reconciliation.
Roberta Hill, who is Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory and a survivor of the Mohawk Institute Residential School, said some of her happier moments while attending the school happened in the green space outside the building.
“I think out here, a child can be a child,” said Hill, the board chair for the Mohawk Village Memorial Park.
“Indoors, not so much. There was a lot of violence and unhappiness.”
The Mohawk Institute Residential School operated as a boarding school for First Nations children from Six Nations, as well as other communities, from 1828 to 1970.
The school is currently being restored and is slated to become a historic site and educational resource.
“When you listen to the stories that come out of there, you will come out in a state of emotional turmoil having to deal with what you heard, but come out here (and) come to this space where you can sit and enjoy nature and you can reflect on what you heard and it won’t hurt you here,” she said.
Hill said the nearly $1 million has been raised through grants and donations and they have set a target of $5 million to complete the park and for ongoing maintenance.
Hill said a GoFundMe will be launched in the coming months
“Most of the roadblocks have been funding just bringing awareness to the importance of this park,” said Shelley Clark, who is an intergenerational survivor and member of the board.
Concepts for the park have already been created and there are plans to build a memorial on the property to honour the children who attended the residential school.
“I think the hope is just to make positive change and bring some peace,” said Hill.
It’s estimated around 150,000 children were placed in residential schools across Canada, with many survivors accusing the system of physical and sexual abuse.
John Elliott also attended the school in 1947 and said visiting the school is still difficult.
“It’s not easy,” he said.
“I could hear the whimpering from this way and that way. Pretty soon someone was crying…. It just gets to me.”
Elliott said seeing the park developed would be a step forward in healing and reconciliation.
“It would mean a lot,” he said.
— with Files from Don Mitchell.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.