I wish I was in downtown Vancouver last weekend, to take part in the Truth and Reconciliation walk where more than 70,000 people gathered for the four-kilometre walk. It was a rainy Sunday, but the event organizers were happy to have even more people attend than they had expected.
The Walk for Reconciliation -- a New Way Forward was not just a physical walk uniting Aboriginals and Canadians to raise awareness, but it was symbolic step forward on a journey toward healing.
Many turned out for Bernice King’s speech -- the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. I watched her speech on Youtube and I loved her very realistic approach towards a healing journey. She recognized that this was one step in the right direction, but there was still much healing to be done.
So many survivors have suffered silently for years. I saw a video where one man said that he hadn’t told a soul of his horrible experiences until he was 40 years old. Another man said that he didn’t work after he attended a residential school because he hated all white people and he would have had to work for one.
One woman gave a testimony that she recalled a young girl skipping rope in the playground, who was only about 11 or 12, and she had a giant pregnant belly. One day that girl disappeared and no one ever saw her or her baby again.
I heard of kids who were forced to eat rotten food. One kid threw up, and was told he had to eat his puke, or he would suffer a beating. He was crying and couldn’t do it, so an older boy stepped in and ate it for him, to spare the little boy a beating.
I lived on three reserves that had former residential schools. One of the buildings was still being used as a school when I attended it, and it was still referred to as a residential school, though by then it was run by a tribal council and no longer had any church affiliations.
The stories that remained on the playgrounds of those reserves, passed down from older grades to younger grades, were some of the worst ghost stories I’ve ever heard. When I was just a small child, I heard of babies, born to students and nuns, who were suffocated and stuffed into the walls of the buildings. I was shocked when I was older to hear what I had previously thought were rumors and myths, to be actual testimonies of some survivors who had witnessed these horrors.
These are some of the stories that people have carried inside them for years. These are the scars they wear on their inside. By listening to them, however horrible and atrocious they are, we acknowledge their pain and help the survivors move forward.
Yes the government and churches may have apologized, and that was one critical step, but that doesn’t magically speed up healing. If you have ever been wronged, and I certainly have, the word “sorry” doesn’t automatically erase injustice. Time, talking, therapy, and justice are all some of the ways that help people let go and maybe someday even forgive.
At the residential school I attended, Beauval Indian Education Centre, which was known as Beauval Indian Residential School when it was run by the Roman Catholic Church, a former dorm supervisor will be undergoing trial on Oct. 14 in North Battleford, for sexual abusing students from 1960 to 1967. Paul Leroux is facing 17 charges of indecent assault of children between the ages of three and 18. He previously served time for sexually abusing students at an Inuvik residential school.
Perhaps there are still more students out there who were abused by Leroux and have yet to come forward. He, of course, is not the only one, and not all of those accused are alive and able to pay for the abuses they inflicted on innocent children.
A friend told me of a white man she knew who picked up an old First Nations hitchhiker once. He didn’t usually pick up hitchhikers, but decided to make an exception. When he discovered that this old man was hitchhiking to the gravesite of a man who had abused him in residential school, he decided to tag along. The old man went to the site while the driver waited patiently at his truck. The old man released all his anger and hurt in a tearful confession, and vowed to leave it there, and work on forgiveness. The driver tossed aside all his plans and drove the man back home, moved by his companion’s bravery.
I believe there are still many people who have remained silent for so long, and have repressed their painful memories, in order to function as best they can in life. I hope these people find the courage to face their horrors and know that there are supportive people around to help them through this process. It is not their fault and there is no shame in coming forward.
This is not just their burden, but the burden of us all. It will take community support to help these survivors move forward and I urge all people to take part in any hearings or walks, and encourage the government to release all residential school documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Monday, Sept. 30, many people will be wearing orange shirts to honour the children who survived residential schools and to remember those who didn’t. I’ll be wearing my orange shirt, and I hope you will too.
It is my wish that any and all survivors are able to unburden their souls, and find peace in whatever time they have left with their friends and families.
I like this quote, from Bernice King’s speech, “I encourage you, as you move forward, this is going to be a long journey, but every journey begins with a single step. Believe it or not, you have made a tremendous step towards progress here in Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that you have hailed, while it is not the end, and it is not the total answer, it is an important step because it allowed individuals to cleanse and to clear their conscience, their hearts, of the pain and the suffering, and the residue that has come from years of abuse. It is an important step.”
God bless all survivors. May you find peace.