Indian Residential schools happened in Canada and enforced a government, church, school led regime of family seperation for over 150,000 kids that only ended in 1996. I am of the opinion that every Canadian has been a victim of Indian Residential School whether you attended one, are affected by intergenerational trauma (ex: continued family seperation through child welfare) or are non-Indigenous and were fed a false history. My mother attended residential schools and all of her children including myself became partof the child welfare system. I was fortunate to be adopted by the Champagnes in Winnipeg’s North End who were emergency foster placements to hundreds of kids in need of a family of people to care about them. This family exemplified what it means to live “every child matters” and always emphasized that education was the way out of poverty.
On Monday September 30, 2019 we all have an opportunity as community members, educators and relatives to take concrete actions to acknowledge those still affected by residential schools. If you are in a position to educate others, please do what you can to centre the voices and experiences of survivors in whatever you choose to do. If you can take any actions in your local community to benefit in any tangible ways the children affected who are now senior citizens in our communities that would be awesome too. There are resources available online such as these lesson plans from the Manitoba Teachers Society and this video explaining the origins of Orange Shirt Day, however if you can have an in person experience it is even better. I will recommend that if you ask an experiential person into your classroom try to compensate them, ensure they have access to mental health supports where possible or offer tobacco and smudge if they request.
On Orange Shirt Day this year I will be sharing words with Steinbach Regional High School and will be speaking from my own lived experiences and observations as the son of a residential school survivor, a product of the Manitoba child welfare system and a street educator in Winnipeg’s North End. I will be reminding people that if IRS intended to remove the culture and the language of those kids who went there, then schools and educational institutions today should do what they can to nurture and support Indigenous kids gaining access to their culture and language in a culturally safe environment. If IRS wanted to force kids into the workforce in a limited and insulting way, you can encourage your Indigenous students to find their gifts and share them with the world in a career of their choice. If IRS abused children, then school today must be the absolute opposite, a bastion of safety where children are emotionally, physically, emotionally and spiritually safe. If IRS seperated families, schools today need to do what they can to encourage healthy reltionships in their students’ lives eith their families or families of choice.
There is something I often repeat to people, when we exist or operate within environments where we know damage has been done or harm has been caused, we should in our actions do what we can to remove the harm that system or situation can do and wherever possible we need to be kind. In this way we can be the medicine for the things that still ail us on our communities.
Sadly the effects of IRS are still here. The students you have and their families may be dealing with them every time they walk through the school’s doors. For those individuals simply showing up to school at all is an act of courage anda demonstration of intergenerational love. A true example that every child matters. So as educators, as community members and as relatives, what are we gonna do on September 30?
PS: here is an event happening in Winnipeg that includes a round dance and a walk to Oodena Circle at The Forks