Mixed opin­ions

Range of re­ac­tions to pos­si­ble hol­i­day to mark legacy of res­i­den­tial schools

The Western Star - - CANADA - BY MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tion to en­act a statu­tory hol­i­day aimed at re­mem­ber­ing the legacy of Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem has drawn mixed re­ac­tions from In­dige­nous Cana­di­ans, with re­sponses to the plan rang­ing from cau­tious op­ti­mism to open dis­dain.

Many have ex­pressed con­cern that such an oc­ca­sion - ded­i­cated to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with In­dige­nous Peo­ples - could sim­ply de­volve into an­other day off for most Cana­di­ans, and note that a lot of work will need to be done if the day is to achieve its goal.

“Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion right now is a great buzz word, but that’s kind of where it seems to end,” said Frances Moore, an Anishi­naabe woman from Timiskam­ing First Na­tion in Que­bec who now lives in London, Ont. “If this truly is about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, then great. Do this day, but let’s also see ac­tion in other ways.”

The steps needed to make a prospec­tive day of re­mem­brance ef­fec­tive would have to in­volve the gov­ern­ment mak­ing ed­u­ca­tional re­sources avail­able across the coun­try to en­sure the ef­fects of res­i­den­tial schools re­main front and cen­tre, Moore said.

In­put from In­dige­nous Cana­di­ans from all walks of life will be es­sen­tial to de­sign­ing a mean­ing­ful trib­ute day, but they should not be left alone to shoul­der the bur­den of ed­u­cat­ing the broader pub­lic, Moore said.

Gov­ern­ments and al­lies, she said, should “step up” and re­lieve sur­vivors and those who love them of the “emo­tional labour” of telling trau­ma­tiz­ing sto­ries that have not yet come to an end.

The gov­ern­ment-funded, church-run res­i­den­tial schools op­er­ated for more than a cen­tury. In­dige­nous chil­dren were ripped away from their fam­i­lies, usu­ally start­ing in late Septem­ber, and sent to schools where they en­dured wide­spread sex­ual, emo­tional and phys­i­cal abuse.

Eve­lyn Kork­maz, who spent sev­eral years at the St. Anne’s Res­i­den­tial School in north­ern On­tario, said the pro­jected day of trib­ute would do lit­tle more than re-open those wounds for her and her fel­low sur­vivors.

“Who wants to be re­minded ev­ery year your coun­try and Church be­trayed and de­stroyed your in­no­cence? No thanks,” Kork­maz wrote in an email, adding that she is not aware of wide­spread ef­forts to con­sult sur­vivors be­fore the gov­ern­ment floated the pos­si­bil­ity of a stat hol­i­day.

One or­ga­ni­za­tion in­volved in sus­tain­ing Re­mem­brance Day, a po­ten­tially com­pa­ra­ble fed­eral hol­i­day, echoed Moore’s call for a fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion.

An­thony Wil­son-Smith, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for His­tor­ica Canada, said Re­mem­brance Day has lodged it­self in the col­lec­tive psy­che in part be­cause of its wide­spread adop­tion across the coun­try and the sub­stan­tial ed­u­ca­tional re­sources that have gone into pre­serv­ing its pur­pose.

“With Re­mem­brance Day you can go to any one of the ceno­taphs across this coun­try that ev­ery small town ... and big city has,” he said.

CP PHOTO

Frances Moore, poses for a pho­to­graph in Gib­bons Park in London, Ont., on Fri­day. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tion to en­act a statu­tory hol­i­day aimed at re­mem­ber­ing the legacy of Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem has drawn mixed re­ac­tions from In­dige­nous Cana­di­ans.

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