Feel the history of Indian Residential Schools
Feel the history of Indian Residential Schools
The history of residential schools can often be told coldly. Many people know this piece of Canada’s not-so-distant past, but do not understand or feel it. Because, sometimes, to truly understand a historical event, you have to be immersed in it to feel the emotions of those who lived through it and to grasp the real impact on their lives today. By Veronik Picard
Native boarding schools were residential schools where Native children were brought, without parental consent, for the purpose of being evangelized and assimilated into Canadian culture. These institutions have remained open across Canada for more than 160 years, the last one closing in 1997. If during this article the term “residential schools” will be used rather than “residential schools”, this is to emphasize that these establishments were not run by Aboriginal people.
Until recently, few Aboriginal people took up the pen to tell this story. The non-native people who did it or who still do it, despite their benevolence and their listening, put these stories on paper according to their Western perception. In recent years, more and more Aboriginal writers from different nations have written their own version, each in their own way: the story of residential schools for Aboriginal people takes on its full meaning.
Through the words of Édouard Itual Germai
A survivor of the attempted cultural genocide of residential schools for Aboriginals, Édouard Itual Germain embodied, throughout his life, his nation’s way of seeing the world. Even after going out, like Uapanatuk (his favorite star) at sunrise, he tells his story in Ni kistisin / I remember. Published posthumously, this collection of poetry was taken under the wing of his daughters, Christine, Lucie and Mélanie, who put the finishing touches to it.
Édouard Itual Germain was an Ilnu hunter, trapper and poet from Mashteuiatsh, an aboriginal community near Grand Lac Pekuakami (Lac Saint-Jean). A self-taught poet, he began putting his words to paper following a workshop led by Innu poet Joséphine Bacon and Quebec writer Laure Morali. His touching pen allows him to perpetuate the desire bequeathed by his mushum (grandfather): that of never forgetting the Innu language and culture.
” it’s cystic is the legacy of many years of work by our father and is dedicated to residential school survivors and their descendants. This collection is intended as a journey towards healing,” write his three daughters in the preface to the posthumous collection.
Through short poems, Édouard Itual Germain does not need many words to convey his ideas. Many Innu maintain that it is sometimes through silence, observation and contemplation that we learn the most.
“In the silent air
what you did to us
In this world
We no longer fear your secrets
What exists in us
We wear it
Around the same fire »
– Ass8te8ek | They are in band
Through the words of Michel Jean
When journalist, author and anchor Michel Jean, an emblematic figure in Quebec, tells his story, that of his parents, his cousins, it is difficult to remain indifferent to residential schools for Aboriginals. This past is also that of too many children who have now become seniors in Canada. Hidden too long, this story stands silently close to each of us who dwell on the back of the Great Turtle, commonly known as America.
Michel Jean broke the silence that reigned around him by painting the portrait of tragic events experienced by endearing humans, these same humans, these same ilnus who saw him grow up. The writer’s works are connected by common characters; a character who makes a brief appearance in Right will be the protagonist of the book The wind is still talking about it. With these horrible stories that are told there and which take place in secluded places in the province of Quebec, one would almost believe oneself in the romantic universe of Patrick Senécal, with the difference that, this time, the story is inspired facts experienced by hundreds of thousands of people in Canada.
The author from Mashteuiatsh still wants to avoid people suffocating in a universe that is too suffocating. He therefore perfectly balances the happy and dramatic moments, which allows the reader to become attached to the protagonists and to feel empathy towards them.
Not having lived in residential schools for Aboriginals, Michel Jean recounts, in Lthe wind is still talking about it, the story of one of her cousins who was forcibly taken to Fort George in James Bay. A place where he was told to forget his name and where he was given a number. In the book Right, we understand that this cousin’s sister died in residential school at a very young age and that her parents only learned of it several months later, without ever having seen her again.
What makes Michel Jean’s works unique is the author’s way of adding current stories or thoughts to his novels. The reader therefore feels more challenged in his time. Atuk, her and us as well as Tiohtiá:ke are good examples. Their words invite the reader to show kindness to the Aboriginal people around them, every day, because for Aboriginal people, adapting to the contemporary world remains a daily challenge.
Through the words of Richard Wagamese
Richard Wagamese’s novels follow the evolution of his questions concerning the place of Aboriginal people in our North American society. All of his work tells his story, that of his loved ones, and that of many Aboriginal people in Canada. After having explained and understood this past, he explores the avenues of better living together between Aboriginals and Canadians.
The novelist born in northwestern Ontario did not experience residential schools like many of his relatives; instead, he lived through the “Sixties Scoop,” where children were removed from their communities to be raised in non-Aboriginal families. The purpose was essentially the same as that of the residential schools, to “kill the Indian in the heart of the child.” The debut novel by the Anishinaabe author of Keeper ‘n Me tells a story very similar to his.
One of his most famous works is indian horsewhich was adapted to the cinema in 2017, the year of his death. This novel tells the endearing story of Saul, a young Anishinaabe who is forcibly taken to residential school. In this establishment, he suffered numerous verbal, physical and sexual abuses, but he took hockey as an escape, becoming an exceptional player coveted by national league teams. Despite his talent, the many traumatic events he witnessed or suffered before, during, and after his time at residential school take precedence over his promising career.
Like many Indigenous people, Richard Wagamese has come a long way toward sobriety and reconnecting with his roots; a path to healing. In his book The stars go out at dawnthe writer from the Wabaseemoong nation traces this route that many seek through the story of a 16-year-old who accompanies his grandfather on his last journey to a distant mountain. His posthumous novel Stars light is the sequel.
Learning to live together through their words
Taking the time to understand the history of residential schools is urgent, as those who experienced these institutions are getting older. It is now a collective duty to stop to listen and read those who feel the need to share their experience before to die out like the stars, to take the western gate or to paddle away to another worldaccording to the beliefs of their nation.
Whether in their mother tongue or in another language, these authors contribute to reconciliation or better living together through their stories. Their words allow each person who hears them to carry their values in their hearts so that each decision takes into account the well-being of the next seven generations who live together on the back of the Great Turtle. Because, among the Aboriginal nations, each generation has the future of the next seven in its hands, which allows each of them to continue the work started by the previous ones.
This article is taken from the notebook Is the press indigenous!