Redress and Reconciliation: The Legacy of Residential Schools

Yesterday I attended a panel at Algoma University focused on residential school and reconciliation.  The panel, “Redress & Reconciliation in the face of Post-Apology Revelations”, was standing room only and featured four residential school survivors, two inter-generational survivors, and historian Ian Mosby.  

The panel participants were invited to speak about their thoughts on Harper’s apology to residential school survivors, reconciliation, and relations following the apology.  The first two survivors to speak, Mary Hill and Fran Fletcher Luther, both emphasized that they thought Harper didn’t truly believe the words of the apology, that the words he spoke didn’t come from the heart, and that he didn’t write the apology.  Mary Hill also said she felt disappointed that the apology didn’t acknowledge those survivors who have already passed on. 

The two inter-generational survivors spoke of the long term impacts of residential schools on communities and the need to acknowledge the on-going damage.  They pointed to the ongoing legislation that is marginalizing indigenous people and then need for a true apology to be followed up with actions.  Mitch Case highlighted the need for truth.  He argued that reconciliation cannot begin until the truth is out there and accepted. 

The inter-generational impacts of the residential school system have been devastating and is something that needs to be acknowledged and discussed more.  The inclusion of two inter-generational survivors on the panel helped highlight the need for more open discussions and brought attention to current legislation that is marginalizing indigenous communities.

One of the most moving parts of the panel was listening to Mike Cachagee speak about his experience at residential school, his work with the government leading up the residential school settlement agreement, and the residential schools survivor movement.  Mike spoke about starving at residential school and the physical and emotional pain caused by starvation. 

Mike also told an anecdote in which he was questioned about why he was publicly speaking against the residential school settlement agreement.  He asked government officials if they had children and if so what price could they put on their love for their child.  Predictably, the individuals said you couldn’t put a price on love.  Mike response was ‘But you have.  You paid me $3,000 a year for my attendance at residential school.  $3,000 a year for being deprived of my parents love, for being taken away from my family.’ 

I’ve heard Mike tell this experience to other groups.  But every time this example is gut wrenching.  The compensation of the residential school settlement agreement did not fix things and can in no way make up for what happened in residential schools.  Mike’s pointed words highlight an underlying dissatisfaction many have with the apology, the settlement agreement, and current discussions of reconciliation. 

The panel closed with the resilient words “They can’t take our spirit.  They couldn’t take our souls.”  I have worked closely with the survivors who were on this panel for the past five years.  I have heard them speak about their residential school experiences countless times.  But each time they speak I learn something new and I am reminded of the importance of truth telling and the need for us to listen to each other.  Reconciliation takes two sides.

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