By Blaine Favel, September 30, 2021
Thursday September 30th is a day of remembrance for survivors of the residential school system. In total, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes and families, starting at age 5, and placed in these institutions which were designed to “kill the Indian in the child.”
The orange shirt represents the idealism, dreams and love of a young Indigenous girl whose mother made her a pretty orange shirt on her first day of school. Upon arrival at the residential school, the shirt was taken from her, her head shaved, she was stripped naked and hosed down in a shower room, and fitted with worn out clothes, given a number to be identified with, followed by years of abuse and trauma. This exact pattern was faced by my parents, cousins and siblings. These underfunded religious institutions tormented generations of our people and scarred families and communities profoundly. Both male and female pedophiles roamed the hallways at night, taking children, and abusing them. Other children were beaten to death, starved and died of general neglect. As of this writing there are approximately 6500 missing children who did not return home, and whose graves are now being found.
My hope is that Canadians appreciate that the sharing of the land by my people came at great cost to Indigenous Canadians and this history was too shameful for Canada to acknowledge until recently. In my personal experience as the child and sibling of survivors, and as a Chief, virtually all the trauma and dysfunction suffered currently by my people are directly attributed to these schools, which were designed to eradicate our values, language and ways of knowing our place in the universe. For Canadians, when you see a street person panhandling in the street, or hear of Indigenous suicides, encounters with the law and social services, please think about these schools, churches and the direct line of abuse of which you are only seeing the ripples.
I believe it is imperative for Canadians to know the truth about their own history and that the prosperity they enjoy was purchased by the pain, tears and death of many innocent children and lives. To do justice to this day, Canadians should do more homework and lend efforts to lift up the lives of Indigenous peoples in need, whether it is through a charitable act, to employing and training our people and creating opportunities through business partnerships to help share in the wealth of this land.
I am more hopeful than despairing about the future. I believe Canadians have good and fair hearts when they know the truth. Let us take a moment in today to pray for those lost souls who never came home to their moms and dads, and to pledge to lift up the descendants of survivors. In lifting up our brothers and sisters in need, we lift up our own humanity.
Blaine Favel is CEO of Kanata Earth. He served as Chief of the Poundmaker Cree Nation and Grand Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. He is also a Director at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.