By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – National Truth and Reconciliation Day took place on Sept. 30th, with events taking place all across the country in recognition of the Indigenous lives lost at the residential schools in Canada. The People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Center (PDIFC) in Stephenville also hosted events for the majority of the day.
In the morning, children aged 5 to 10 were invited to the friendship center to take part in sharing time and activities in support of residential school survivors, while children aged 11 to 18 were invited to participate in a knowledge-based activity on the truth behind residential schools in Canada, with prizes to be won.
Paul Pike of PDIFC said he would’ve liked to see more children, but has hopes that in future years that will change.
“There are a lot of people who think you have to have your status to come in and take part in the programs here, especially for Truth and Reconciliation Day, but all of our programs are open to everyone regardless of status,” said Pike. “We want people to come in. We want to celebrate our culture, but we also want to share it. We want to build those relationships of respect.”
Pike said it is important for children to learn about the stories behind truth and reconciliation; however, it has to be delivered in an age-appropriate way.
“We really don’t want to provide any misinformation, so whatever we are sharing with them is accurate,” said Pike. “We use ways to convey that message, especially to younger ones.”
Pike believes the effects of residential schools can still be felt today, that it is current, not just in the past.
“I think this still impacts people and communities today. It’s not just something that happened a long time ago. The last of these schools closed in 1996,” said Pike. “The effects are still here today. The systems that were put in place in those schools, some of these systems are still here.”
Pike said that because children had no comfort in these residential schools, many didn’t have the tools to be able to cope with things when they got older.
“People tend to deal with the traumas that they’ve endured the best way they know how, even though it may not be good for them, but the whole point is not wanting to hurt and not wanting to remember the pain,” said Pike. “Despite all of that, the people who are successful speak volumes to their resilience. Despite all that has been done to us, we are still able to move forward as good people.”
At 1:00 p.m. the day’s main event took place. Special guest Lottie Johnson, from Eskasoni First Nation, appeared via Zoom conference to share her personal experiences at a residential school in Shubenacadie. The day ended with a sharing circle for those in attendance.
Johnson said she has spent the majority of her life since then on a journey toward healing and forgiveness.
“All I wanted was for people to know,” said Johnson. “For people to know the story.”
Johnson said the main purpose of the residential schools was to separate the children from their Indigenous heritage and to assimilate them into an alternate way of life.
“I’m grateful to be here today, to be part of this,” said Johnson. “I wanted to be part of something where our people would be recognized.”
Patrick Park-Tighe with PDIFC said events like this are important so people can move forward in a united way.
“People need to speak. People need to share their feelings. People need to tell their stories, and then the most important part of that is they need to be heard. They need to be acknowledged,” said Park-Tighe. “We have to honour those stories and then we need to be prepared to do something with this knowledge that we now have. This is the starting point, and I can only see that grow as we move forward.”
Park-Tighe said it is crucial that the focus of Truth and Reconciliation Day is kept going throughout the year.
“That’s always a fear for us, this idea of a one-off,” shared Park-Tighe. “The momentum is definitely something that needs to continue. The question is, how does that happen? For me, it’s having some education brought into the schools, into more public spaces, organizations, and government spaces. That way you’re not seeing orange only one day a year, but it’s part of the fabric of the community.”
Park-Tighe said Indigenous representation is vital and must be present through all facets of the community, from boardrooms to hospital administrations, to ensure Indigenous people can help shape the policies that govern society and no longer be held back by a lack of power or recognition.
“Indigenous people, they’re still here. They remain. They are not beaten. They are not broken by these past experiences, not broken by things still happening today,” said Park-Tighe. “We just have to follow along the road map that’s there and have the courage and the will to make those things reality.”
Park-Tighe said there is a ‘climate of fear’ in the Indigenous community, a sense of shame inherently built into Indigenous communities due to years of being denied their identities, but these things can be combated by pride.
“Being proud of your Indigenous identity, not hiding anymore, celebrating it,” said Park-Tighe. “And non-Indigenous Canadians can have that pride that comes from being that ally, taking those steps to change things and making this a Canada we can all be proud of.”