Healthy childhood development is about healthy relationships – to our parents, community, culture – and the strong sense of identity and empowerment that result. Through Truth and Reconciliation: The Saskatchewan National Event, 21st century Canadians have had the opportunity to learn about Canada’s colonial past that fundamentally destroyed the hopes of many Aboriginal people for a healthy life through the destruction of these relationships. The TRC website includes webcasts and extensive coverage of the commission's events. The original statement of apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June 2008, establishing the commission, as well as other CBC coverage, can be found here.
From June 21 to 24, Saskatoon hosted this four-day public event, which featured open forums where survivors and descendants of survivors of residential schools told their stories to a commissioner representing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee – a national entity formed to uncover the truths behind the residential schools and educate the public on this dark period in Canadian colonial history.
Residential schools – “a cold building with cold people”
Through tears, participants recounted their stories of childhoods lost due to the appropriation of Aboriginal children into schools. Many cited abuse and neglect – being locked in washrooms, called savages, facing sexual abuse, scars from beatings – during their childhood in residential schools, leading to life-long deficiencies in identity and belonging, not only within their family but with their culture.
Intergeneration effects of dysfunctional parenting emerged from the trauma the survivors endured. One participant described how her grandmother, a residential school survivor, “didn’t say she loved me...she didn’t know how to show it.” Another spoke about how the pain led to her father’s alcohol abuse, resulting in frequent incidents of beatings for her mother and brothers.
In many families, this has led to the collective struggle of providing to children “a better life than our parents and grandparents went through,” while dealing with the pain of the past. The task now is to heal, before the subsequent generations can suffer.
“...it’s a waste...”
While ongoing research will provide solutions for going forward, sometimes it only takes a compassionate look back to realize the fundamentals of a societal problem, attendees heard. Thanking those who suffered for giving us knowledge of what does not work, is not enough, speakers said; listening to what can be done today is as valuable as ever. Personal rediscovery of traditional culture was often mentioned as a means to salvation and re-affirmation of healthy life choices. As one participant said, traditional aboriginal culture wasn’t lost – as was the goal of residential schools. But rather, “it’s been waiting.” For the sake of tomorrow’s children, solutions can’t come soon enough.
Saskatoon was one of several communities in the province hosting Truth and Reconciliation events, which started in January. The most recent one took place in Buffalo River, July 3 and 4, which will be followed by ones in September in North Battleford, Beauval and Île-à-la-Crosse.
By Thilina Bandara, contributing editor for kidSKAN. He can be reached at email@example.com.