All Métis residential school survivors must be recognized, MNC president says

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Many Métis residential school survivors continue to go unacknowledged — and that’s going to have to change if the government wants to reconcile with Indigenous people, a Métis leader says.

Speaking in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Métis National Council (MNC) President Cassidy Caron said the papal apology for residential schools “wasn’t the end of that journey.”

“We as the Métis nation specifically have so much more work to do,” Caron said.

“There are many Métis residential school survivors who continue to go unrecognized, unacknowledged for the harms that they endured during their time at a residential school, a day school, convents.”

These institutions, Caron said, all sought to do “the same things” to Métis children that the residential schools “did to many Indigenous children across the country.”

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Residential “schools” were schools in name only, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report. Children were ripped from their homes and placed in these institutions, where they’d be systematically stripped of their culture and, in many cases, subjected to horrific abuses.

More than 38,000 of the children sent to residential schools were subjected to sexual and serious physical abuse, according to the TRC.

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The TRC’s final report found there were at least 4,100 deaths at residential schools across Canada. In recent years, using ground penetrating radar technology, Indigenous communities across Canada have been leading searches of residential school sites.

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So far, more than 1,300 suspected graves have been found.

Despite facing the same abuses as their First Nations and Inuit counterparts, Métis communities have found themselves on the fringes of some of the reconciliation processes aimed at healing the wounds left by residential schools.

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In 2006, when the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was struck, the Métis National Council was not at the table. The deal was struck between the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, the government and the church.

Today, some schools that harmed Métis students are still not recognized by governments as residential schools, according to Caron.

“We will continue to advocate for that recognition this year and then move from there,” Caron said.

“But until that recognition is made and those students and those children, the survivors of those schools get the recognition that they deserve, we won’t see the progress towards reconciliation that we need to in this country.”

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Looking towards the year ahead, Caron says she hopes the conversations around major Indigenous issues don’t lose their momentum.

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“We need to continue having these conversations if we’re going to create the systemic changes that need to occur in order to change the lives of Indigenous people, to ensure that, for us specifically, the Métis nation moves forward in a really strong and prosperous way,” she said.

“But we can’t lose sight of the work that needs to continue in order to create those changes.”

Part of the difficulty that often arises in trying tackle major issues — such as the mistreatment of Indigenous children in foster care or the rates of Indigenous women and girls that are murdered and missing — is that the scope of the issues can be overwhelming.

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In recent weeks, a Winnipeg man was charged in the murders of four Indigenous women. While one body has been recovered, the police have said it would not be “feasible” to search the landfill where they believe the other women’s remains may lie.

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While momentum often builds as these crushing stories emerge, attention wanes as the public becomes overwhelmed by the “massive issue” of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“It paralyzes so many people. They don’t know what to do,” Caron said.

“People have been talking about this crisis that we face in Canada for years now. And it’s so unfair to family members to continue to have to go to the media and tell their stories over and over again for it only to pick up steam for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, and then for it to drop off until again.”

Caron said she understands that it can be “challenging to know where to begin,” but these stories, she added, “have been told.”

“There are actions that have been documented in all of these reports, and it’s time that we figure out where to go next,” she said.

Still, if people continue to push for change and pressure Canada to respect Indigenous rights, Caron said she’s hopeful things will trend in the right direction.

“Everything that we can do to move back towards the respect of Indigenous rights is going to be progress towards building a brighter future for our communities,” she said.

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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.

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