Oct 12, 2021
A deep wound, still far from being healed, was re-opened and deepened in May 2021 with the discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children which were found on the site of the Kamloops residential school. Since this horrific discovery, thousands more unmarked children’s graves have been found at residential school sites. Over 130 residential schools were located across Canada. The last school closed as recently as 1996. Since 1870, over 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools. The resulting intergenerational trauma continues as many living adults went to residential schools, as did their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Entire communities were seriously damaged by the forced removal of school-aged children to residential schools. This made fall, and September, a sad time that can still trigger fear for those who experienced residential school.
The testimonies of survivors and their families were collected over time by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and resulted in a final report that includes 94 Calls to Action aimed at moving everyone closer to reconciliation. The sheer number of “calls,” and the expectation that they result in “action,” is daunting, even for those of us who are Indigenous and who work for an Indigenous organization. Indigenous peoples, the Inuit, the Metis, and the First Nations, are not the only ones who are being called to act. Reconciliation is the work of all Canadians. Sadly, this part of Canada’s history has been omitted and ignored in K-12 curricula. As a result, many non-Indigenous citizens are stunned as these truths come to light. Reconciliation may be a journey of a thousand miles or more, but we can head in the right direction going one step at a time. Simply reading the 94 Calls to Action only takes 5 minutes.
One small step taken by the employees of the Gabriel Dumont Institute was the creation of a commemorative display to honour those who perished, the survivors, and their families. We made children’s moccasins to symbolize the unfinished lives of those who died at residential schools. These beautiful pairs were made by staff. These will be donated to the children’s hospital. A second step was to commission a tune from John Arcand. This became a song once lyrics were added by John’s wife Vicki. Sheila Pelletier sang the lyrics while John and Freddie Pelletier accompanied her on fiddle and guitar. GDI staff were invited to view the online video tribute on September 30th and to reflect on what is being commemorated. This day started out as Orange Shirt Day and has now become a federally recognized day called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It was heart-warming to see so many GDI employees wearing orange on this special day of remembrance and reflection. Each of these steps is moving us along on the journey we must all take.