As Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian residential schools wrapped up the public hearings (truth) phase of its mandate at the beginning of this month, Good Spirit School Division took a small step toward reconciliation.
On April 7, the division unveiled a framed copy of the Government of Canada’s “Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools” at its Visions of the Elders meeting.
Members of the Visions of the Elders group—which comprises representatives from Keeseekoose, Key and Cote First Nations; members of the Board of Education; Andrew Quewezance, GSSD cultural advocate; and Mark Forsythe, First Nation Métis achievement coordinator—passed the document around the presentation circle and shared their feelings on the residential school legacy.
“It takes a lot of courage to walk into a school and talk about this,” Quewezance said. “I am willing to do this so [students] understand and have a better life and future. No one heard our cries when we were in residential schools, now at least somebody knows. We’ve been through the worst and now let’s make things better. Everybody, everybody, needs to know what happened. People are starting to listen and it’s our turn to do our part and start spreading the message.”
Copies of the apology, which was delivered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons June 11, 2008, will soon be installed at all 28 GSSD schools.
“It is indeed a journey to create awareness and understand it,” Reeve said. “There is a way to tell a story to our young ones so they understand.”
In the apology, Harper acknowledged the policy removing and isolating aboriginal children from their homes, families, traditions and cultures was “wrong, has caused great harm and has no place in our country.”
He wrapped up the speech by referencing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“It will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us,” he said.
The idea of posting the apology in schools came from Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the commission and was adopted by the Saskatchewan School Board Association at its fall 2013 assembly.
In an opinion column for CBC News, Murray warned that the end of public hearings is only the beginning of reconciliation because the “damage that the schools inflicted on [students’] lives and the lives of the members of their families and communities will take also generations to fix.”
A commitment to change will also call upon Canadians to realize that reconciliation is not a new opportunity to convince aboriginal people to ‘get over it’ and become like ‘everyone else’,” he wrote. “That is, after all, what residential schools were all about and look how that went.”