This is reconciliation week in Canada. Christiane and I are participating in a number of events as part of this week. We want to learn more.
The Pat Porter Active Living Centre (‘the Centre’), in Steinbach of which Christiane and I are members, hosted an afternoon of learning the history of Indian Residential Schools on Tuesday. The Centre is geared to seniors over 55 years old. Old people like us. That day we also enjoyed an authentic indigenous cuisine lunch of bison stew, Bannock, wild rice, and summer berries with ice cream. That lunch was followed by a ceremony and cultural teachings, drumming and dance.
Frankly, Christiane and I were surprised that the Centre had sponsored such an event. We had never heard of them doing such a thing before. There was pretty good attendance too.
During the day we learned that Jennifer Wood the Indigenous leader the Centre invited to bring to us a couple of hours of entertainment and knowledge was also very pleasantly surprised that the Centre had done this. She said she was very impressed that Steinbach’s seniors would be interested in that. Added to that, she was surprised by how many of us wore orange shirts to identify support for the cause of indigenous children under the banner of ‘All Children Matter.’ Frankly ,I was proud that we were a part of this event. Wood said that 25 years ago this would never have happened. I am not sure it would have happened 5 years ago. Wood said, “The era of change is what you represent here today.”She also said that “by inviting us to speak we were participating in reconciliation.” People like her are accustomed to non-indigenous Canadians showing little interest in such matters.
After the opening water ceremony, we heard from Jennifer Wood, an Ojibway woman from Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation, Ontario. She was the Coordinator of the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement for nearly a decade for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. She has organized some of the largest and most important Indigenous conferences in Canada. We were lucky to have her come to Steinbach to tell us old folks her perspective on indigenous issues, particularly reconciliation.
Here she was a third-generation survivor of Residential Schools, yet she thanked us profusely for inviting her. She was clearly excited about seeing such interest in Steinbach. Who would have believed it?
Added to that, Wood said to those of us wearing the orange shirts that alluded to our support for the Every Child Matters movement, “When you wear an orange shirt you are wearing a bit of justice.” I liked that. That made Christiane and I who were wearing our orange shirts very proud. Wood appreciated our little gesture. I don’t think she was expecting to see a lot of orange shirts in Steinbach.
She opened by saying, she was not there to blame or make people feel guilty. She just wanted us to learn the truth. That was why we were there. For generations the indigenous perspective has been ignored. As she said, “It is a heavy subject, but I want everybody to know the truth.” Without truth there can be no reconciliation.
She told us about how her and her 4 siblings including her sister Vivian who was sitting with Christiane and I, had been seized by government officials and taken away from her loving home without her consent when she was a very young girl. 5 family members were swept up in one day. Imagine the terror!
She knew no one there and could not see her siblings. She was deliberately separated from them and, of course, her parents.
It reminded me of what we had seen in the short video presentation we saw earlier. A residential school survivor told us about her first day at the school. She said,
“When I arrived at the school, far from home, I felt like I had been dropped from the sky. Strangers around me. I don’t know them; they don’t know me. I didn’t know how to socialize. I don’t even know how to love.”
As I have learned, there was a reason for this. It is a harsh Canadian truth. Separating children form parents and siblings was done on purpose It was done deliberately to destroy the Indigenous Family. They wanted to do that. And this is one thing they were very good at.