By Darren Lum
A walk in the woods always leaves me feeling free. Free from stress. Free from the daily grind of life. Just free. Thousands of children didn’t feel this freedom when they were often forcibly taken from their homes by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and taken to residential schools across the country, which were sometimes thousands of kilometres from where they were from. They endured humiliation and shame for speaking their language or how they dressed. They were told to ignore their past, their culture, their lives. It was always known and suspected by their families who never saw their loved ones again that the fate of some children was dire.
To date, there’s an estimate of more than 1,900 bodies (mostly children) have been discovered at the sites of unmarked graves and burial sites near residential schools in Canada. The idea leaves many unknown to this instituted tragedy in disbelief.
The objective behind the residential schools was to “take the Indian out of the child” to quote Sir John A. Macdonald, who was prime minister at the time the schools started. At that time it was known as assimilation and was carried out with an intention to improve lives, which was far from it. Such intentions steeped in ignorance and arrogance. Now we would perceive this kind of action as cultural genocide. However, it was always wrong.
Canada observed the Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30
Truth and Reconciliation is more than a day. It’s more than wearing an orange T-shirt. It’s more than hashtags posted to social media platforms. It’s a recognition of past tragedies that have present day and future repercussions – generational trauma. It goes beyond the single National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. For the survivors and families of the children who were taken from them, every day is felt. We need to educate ourselves and feel it too.
This isn’t about forcing oneself to feel guilty for past generations and government action. It’s about contributing to making our country a better place for everyone. We fail in our citizenship when we ignore the struggles of our neighbours, our fellow citizens.
The past is history, but our future depends upon what we do in the present. There’s no greater shame than leaving those we can help alone to pick up the shards of their life.
Kudos to Haliburton Highlands Secondary School for how they offer a course with a “blanket exercise” to enable students to gain a glimmer of an understanding to what Indigenous people have endured. Like these students, we can all participate in being part of the action to bring light to the darkness. One person can’t make all the difference, but one person can move the proverbial needle forward with learning and being open to listening and it’s a start and that’s worth being part of for a brighter future for everyone.
Former residential school students can call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.
Indigenous peoples across Canada can also go to The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, seven days a week for counseling and crisis intervention. Call the toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310. Here’s a link (nctr.ca) to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation for more information.