27 August 2013
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: CPT delegation attends Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School Commemoration gathering
[Janze was a member of the May 2013 delegation
to Grassy Narrows/Asubpeeschoseewagong.]
Imagine a people, devastated by the idea that white
society had the right to take native children from their parents. Imagine a government using
these malnourished children as test subjects in nutritional experiments. This
history is the truth of the Indian Residential School system and what we
learned on the site of Cecilia Jeffrey, once a Presbyterian-run Residential
Starting in the nineteenth Century, the government took native children in Canada away from their families and sent them to Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Mennonite Residential Schools. School administrators gave them different names, forbade them to speak their own language, and did not allow them to see their parents.
In Indigenous family culture, children come
from the Great Spirit and are the foundation of the family. Mothers had no
children to care for, grandparents could not give their wise advice, and fathers
had no children to protect and teach skills. The government’s intrusion into the lives of indigenous
communities destroyed the family bonds.
At this commemoration gathering, however, we
did not see a defeated people. We
saw pain in their eyes and their posture, but they called themselves “survivors,”
When everyone was gathered in the tent, two
ceremonial songs started, to bless the food. The first speaker, Elder Stephen Kejick, told us to take
pictures to bring home the stories of this memorable day. The ceremony was a historic moment of
confessing guilt, survivors’ stories, and a start of new life together. After each speaker, men, women, and
children danced and sang to the Brown Eagle Drum and Singers. The audience stood and swayed with the
Chief Ruben Contin, representing Ogichidaa
Warren White, spoke emotionally about the commemoration, partly in English,
partly in Anishinaabemowin. I was
overcome and began to cry. Someone
tapped my shoulder. An Elder told
me there was a Health Service. I
soon I felt two loving hands on my shoulders. “Let it go,” the First Nations woman said. She held me until my crying stopped. Then she stood with me. The next dance came. With our arms behind each other’s backs,
we moved with the rhythm.
Peter Bush, representing the Presbyterian Church,
gave a speech apologising for the children taken, for physical and sexual abuse,
bad nutrition, and the recently acknowledged experimentation with the children. In spite of being booed by some audience
members, he continued.
Survivors told their stories. They did not say much about the grief
and pain they suffered. Was it too
emotional for them to share? Or
were they just being polite?
As the last speaker began to tell her life
story, it was time for us to leave.
The school is gone. The only thing left is a flagpole with the
Anishinaabe flag and a monument, which says: “NEVER AGAIN.”