Nicole McKay recently attended a conference where survivors of residential school shared their personal experiences and pains in having to attend the schools.
“Prior to going to the conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation member said. “I had knowledge of residential school, but to hear (the survivors talk), I was able to listen and continue learning about residential schools and how it impacted First Nations, and how it impacted me as well.”
From Oct. 26-29, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) held its Atlantic National Event in Halifax, N.S. Residential School Survivors accompanied by their families, TRC Commissioners, church and government officials, school groups, invited guests and members of the general public attended the four-day gathering. The conference provided public forums for all Canadians to hear and learn about the history and legacy of residential schools.
McKay attended the conference representing SEVEN Youth Media Network to cover the event for SEVEN’s Truth and Reconciliation project.
The project aims to promote healing, understanding and reconciliation between non-Aboriginals and Aboriginal youth about the legacy of residential schools in northern Ontario. It also looks to create discussion and awareness about the inter-generational impacts from residential schools.
McKay said the inter-generational effects were a running theme throughout the gathering in Halifax.
“At the conference, they talked a lot about the ‘survivors of the survivors,’ and those are the ones that are being impacted as well,” she said. “It just made sense as far as the silence, like in my family. For a while, I didn’t understand why my family was the way they were.”
McKay said some of the survivors talked about how their experience impacted their ability to raise their own children.
“It’s not the traditional mother and father that raise a child, often it’s the aunts, uncles, grandparents, that are a part of it,” she said. “They say that a community raises a child, and that’s pretty accurate description of First Nations communities, given the size of it.
“When you talk about a community, like my community, I see the disconnection because of the struggles the young people face, like the use of drugs and alcohol, the high dropout rates for high school, and so on.”
The event had discussion panels along with sharing panels, where survivors talked about their personal experiences. There were many tissue boxes on hand, with TRC support workers standing by to assist those emotionally overwhelmed by the experiences shared.
“It was hard to listen to the survivors tell their stories,” McKay said. “It’s hard not to be part of the emotions that were going on, be a part of the weeping that was going on.”
She said there were a lot of emotions running in the rooms.
“At the same time, it was difficult for me to face my own hurts, of realizing how residential school affected me.
“But it was good for me as well, because I’m more aware of the links of my own life to residential school and my community, and I just want to do my part in getting past that. Because those survivors there want to get past what happened, they want to get to a good place and get a good connection to their families and the youth.”
Though the survivors had a lot of sadness and anger about their experience, they also instilled a sense of pride and inspiration in McKay.
“I was happy that they were able to speak, because not a lot of people speak about their hurts and their pains,” she said. “I thought they were courageous to do what they were doing, because that’s hard to bear what happened to you.”
McKay felt it is important for the survivors to share their stories with all Canadians.
“Their intentions were to educate people and make people aware about the whole issue of residential school,” she said. “I’ve realized there’s an attitude of ‘Oh, residential schools happened a long time ago, it’s time get over.’ But no, it impacted three to five generations of people and it will take more to get over it.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established as a result of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools to guide and inspire a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships.
The next TRC National Event is set to take place in Saskatoon, Sask., in June 2012.
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