Some time ago, Inga asked me to look into some resources to present to our firm ahead of the September 30th Truth and Reconciliation Day.
I stumbled upon the Legacy of Hope Foundation, which is an organization that aims to educate and create awareness about the residential school system. On their webpage, they share videos of survivors that share their story and experience. Listening to survivors share their stories, as well as their grandchildren sharing stories about same, really brings into perspective not only the direct consequence of what happened, but the generational consequences as well.
Since the discovery of mass graves on land where residential schools once stood, a spotlight has shone on the long-standing issue of the abuse and marginalization of the Indigenous People. Children were stolen from their homes and forced to board at residential schools where they were forced to turn their backs on their culture, and everything that is core to their identities, to adopt Catholic ideologies as well as the culture of those who stole their land.
Countless children were dehumanized and physically, sexually, and verbally abused. As of May 24, 2022, there are 4,130 confirmed names of children who died while at residential schools, however, this number is not a final count. The number is likely much higher as residential schools operated from 1828-1996.
I have been a student in Canada since immigrating when I was four years old. The atrocities committed against the Indigenous people were news to me.
In elementary school, we were taught that settlers came to this land and discovered it, there were a few civil wars here and there, and they put the “Indians” (yes, that’s what my teachers said) in residential schools to “help” them. We didn’t learn about the impact of colonization – rather, we learned about how much “better” the Indigenous People were made through colonization. We were taught a little bit about the different cultures and their styles of living and cultural practices, but never about the real way that people were treated.
In secondary school, Canadian history teaching was focused on WW1 and WW2 and Canada’s role as the “good” country during that time. I don’t recall being taught about the atrocities committed in our country against the people it was stolen from, especially considering that the last residential school closed in 1996.
I was absolutely shocked when I learned that this very recent piece of history was never taught to me. By dismissing and sugar-coating history, we cannot learn from it. We cannot reshape and better the future if we don’t understand the past.
The point of Truth and Reconciliation Day is to both confront a very uncomfortable Canadian truth, while also making an ongoing effort to take action in any way we can.
Thus, on the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Day, it is important to honour the survivors and the children lost to the residential school system, as well as their communities by pausing, learning and reflecting. On Truth and Reconciliation Day, our firm will pause and reflect by listening to stories from residential school survivors. As Inga said, it is a time for listening and learning.
Meriam Noori, LLB