June 18th, 2024

Genuine response required toward injustices of residential schools

By Tim Kalinowski on June 22, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs welcomed Terri-Lynn Fox, director of the Kainai Wellness Centre, and Elder Keith Chiefmoon to a special session of its YouTube live speaker series on Monday. Fox and Chiefmoon spoke about the legacy of residential schools, and the ongoing challenges of bringing true reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians.
Referencing the more than 215 children’s graves discovered at Kamloops and other graves now being uncovered at residential schools across the country, Fox said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. If your gut and your psyche isn’t riled up by these underpinnings and continuous unfolding of the traumas and injustices, then there is something not quite right (with you). You should be, quite frankly speaking, outraged as many Indigenous people are.”
As part of her doctoral dissertation, Fox spoke with residential school survivors about the abuses they witnessed and experienced.
“Indian residential schools were a major stepping stone to create havoc among the cultures of Indigenous people across this nation,” Fox said. “The end result of this policy was to educate the Indians into living a European way of life.
“They were prisons for children,” she later added. “And sadly, many didn’t go home because their parents didn’t know they had died at the residential school. Many (Indigenous) continue to be incarcerated, because that is what they know, that’s what they were taught.”
Chiefmoon himself is a residential school survivor, and the trauma of that experience, he said, nearly destroyed him as he initially turned to alcohol to cope with it.
“My experience from the get-go was very traumatic because my parents were both members of the churches (Anglican and Catholic) that were here (in residential schools at the Blood Tribe),” he stated. “My mother was raised as a Catholic, and my dad was a little bit of the Anglican. So we were brought to St. Mary’s and we were subjected to abuse because my dad was an Anglican. And then we got transferred into the Anglican, and we got chastised big time because my mother was Catholic. We were getting it from all sides until the point where my dad said: ‘Enough is enough.’ My dad was charged for keeping us at home.”
Chiefmoon credits his dad’s strength and his grandmother’s intervention to get him off the bottle for helping him survive and endure his residential school experiences, and to continue on with his teaching degree in university.
Chiefmoon said true reconciliation means acknowledging what has happened, and taking action to make this great injustice right.
“Society has to respond in a genuine (way), not just in a token acknowledgement,” he said.
Fox was asked during the question and answer session following her presentation if reconciliation is even possible? She felt it was achievable, but it cannot be prescribed for Indigenous peoples by others.
“We will tell you when we heal,” she stated. “We will tell you from our perspective, not from the Canadian government’s or non-Indigenous people’s. We will tell you. When we don’t have to ask for more money because so many people are dependent on alcohol or opioids, or other drugs. When there is no homeless Indigenous people. When there is fairness and justice in our education, in our recreation, in our social services– then we can fully get there. But until you understand it from our context, that’s where the disconnect is.
Fox said reconciliation not only means reconciling the injustices of a colonial society which set out to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” in residential schools, but also within her people’s own hearts so that one day they might be able to heal and forgive.
“We must decolonize, and we must transform our thought patterns so it is all inclusive and it is fair and respectful to all,” she said. “These were children. They inherited the guilt and shame, and the ugliness, of perpetrators, and those that had done them wrong. And that is part of that cycle of reconciliation and healing. We all need to be a part of that.”

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