On September 30, 2021, CBHSSJB honoured the survivors of the residential school system and their families, and mourned the children who never returned.
On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I pay special tribute to the thousands of former residential school survivors and to former students who never returned home; whose remains are still being discovered in marked or unmarked graves on former residential school grounds across this country.
I pay special homage to the 215 innocent children whose remains were discovered in the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, whose discovery brought us back to reality. A reminder that all the physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual wounds from that era are still fresh for many survivors. That the battle to end the cycles and heal from the ongoing impacts from that era, is not over.
As we commemorate the survivors, we also extend our sympathies to the fellow school mates, friends, siblings, families, communities and Nations of those students who did not return home.
This week has been another opportunity to reflect on the history of residential schools and their impacts. Across this country we heard about children as young as three (3) years old, were taken away from their families by the order of the Federal Government and placed in the hands of church-run schools to kill the Indian in the child.
My parents were forbidden to speak their mother tongue in and around these schools. They were taught our language and culture was of no use to the new civilized world. If they or their fellow students didn’t comply to the rules, they would pay for it physically or in other forms of punishment. Like many of their fellow survivors, their experience still haunts them in their memories.
While others may have been lucky, many paid the price for being Indigenous, for being scared, for being innocent, for making small mistakes. Some survivors were victims of human experiments, stories so horrific they are hard to believe. Let’s face it, these so-called schools were built to destroy the spirit of the Indigenous people in this country.
The intergenerational impacts from that era have been grave. Many former students experienced different forms of abuse, including sexual abuse. It is obvious today that the different forms of abuse and impacts continued on. They evolved into cycles and over several decades, have become our norms. This needs to change. These cycles need to end to protect children today and to protect future generations.
The Government of Canada is committed to reconciliation and to repair its tragic history with Indigenous people, and the ongoing legacy of residential schools. The Liberal Government recently passed legislation to declare September 30th, 2021 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and as a Federal Statutory Holiday.
This day is an opportunity for each public servant to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools. It is a day of reflection for all Canadians of all ages, and an opportunity to participate in community Truth and Reconciliation events.
As more Canadians begin to learn about their history and commit to engage in reconciliation, let’s remember that since the closure of residential schools, many of them learned about our past. They live or lived, work or worked with us. Many of them became life-long friends. They are not to blame.
Indigenous people will continue the hard work of decolonization and indigenization that brings back our sacred teachings, that honors our knowledge systems, that imbues our institutions and families with a sense of purpose and belonging, that recenters our culture and language. Restoring pride in who we were and acknowledging our resilience for how far we have come are part and parcel of our journey towards a flourishing future where our children are honored, nurtured and loved.
The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay will do its part in moving forward. We will develop new programs and services, partner with communities and regional entities to improve our Nation’s wellbeing. We will accelerate the construction of our Healing Center to address addiction and intergenerational trauma.
On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we honour all survivors, the 215 and each and every residential school student who didn’t get the chance to return home. May their souls find peace and may we live life in their honour.
Meegwetch, Thank you, Merci, Jinshkoomidno Missoweh.
What you can do
- Observe 1 minute of silence at 2:15 pm on September 30
- Join events taking place in your community.
- Wear something orange to show your support, such as t-shirt, hoodie or pin.
- Learn about traditional medicine and how Cree Elders sage clear negative energy.
- Learn more about the history of residential schools in Canada. We've provided a list of resources below.
Conrad Rupert, from Chisasibi, generously shares with us a song composed by his late grand-father Joseph Rupert.
The month of September is a sad time for former residential school survivors and their families, a time that triggers sad memories, when the children were brought to the schools, taken away from their communities.
This song which depicts a story of goose hunting, aims to lessen the pain and get in touch with ancestors.