Less than 30 years ago in parts of our country, Aboriginal children were still being brainwashed that their way of life was inferior to that of the mainly European settlers who First Nations people had welcomed to Canada.
These children had followed in their parents’ footsteps to be educated in residential schools. The intent of the schools was “to kill the Indian in the child” as Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in his landmark apology to Aboriginal peoples in 2008. The schools in many cases were an opportunity for poorly educated young men and women to do a job they were woefully unqualified to do. The resulting horrors inflicted on children as young as five are a tragedy by any definition.
Kids were taken from their families. They were not allowed to speak their own languages, and in many cases were beaten for doing so. Youngsters were used as cheap labourers to provide money for the churches and their overseas missions. Growing boys and girls were underfed. And in many instances, these innocents were used as whipping blocks and for sexual gratification by sadists parading as men and women of God.
For many of our neighbours on the Sunshine Coast, the shíshálh people on whose traditional territory we have our homes and businesses, this was their story at St. Augustine’s Indian Residential School. The school stood on land that the present day Sechelt Indian Band complex now occupies.
Many of the children who went to this school were day scholars, an important distinction in judgments handed down in lawsuits filed by residential school survivors. Until recently only people who had resided at the schools were eligible for compensation for their misery. In August 2012, an action was launched in Kamloops and supported by our local shíshálh Nation to find justice for day scholars.
In 10 days, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Gathering will come to Vancouver. Over the course of a week beginning Sept. 16, British Columbians will have an opportunity to listen to the stories of the survivors of the residential schools, including day scholars. It will be a chance for all of us to hear first hand what First Nations people endured in the name of education.
Some of us, when this subject rears its ugly head, prefer to say we were not the ones who perpetrated this blight on innocent children, that we have nothing to be forgiven for. And we may be right. But, and it’s a very big but, if we don’t hear these stories and we don’t empathize with the wronged, then there is no opportunity to move on. Their stories need to be heard.
If you’re able, go to the TRC events planned for Sept. 18 to 21 at the PNE, and make plans to march on Sept. 22. We envision a sea of every race of people. This is our opportunity to show we care. All of us need to take that step.