Residential school survivors from across the country are sharing their stories in advance of Thursday’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
On Parliament Hill on Wednesday, several survivors spoke to a crowd of hundreds of people to discuss the terrors they experienced in the residential school system.
“We were made to feel that we were not good enough,” said Inuk Elder Levina Brown.
“As a nation we can change our story, to my fellow survivors I want you to know I love you.”
Thursday marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new federal holiday that honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and their communities.
A federal holiday to commemorate the horrors these people faced was among the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“It is my hope that in 100 years from now our future generations will identify this date as a milestone in healing the nation and bringing us closer to reconciliation,” said Jimmy Durocher, a Metis man and residential school survivor from Ile-a-la-Crosse, Sask.
The residential school system in Canada operated between 1831 and 1996. They were designed to strip Indigenous people of their culture and language, only to replace them with a Christian faith and the English language.
About 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and sent to these facilities, where as many as 15,000 died, according to the TRC.
Despite the national holiday, several provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, have chosen not to recognize it, meaning that schools and provincial offices in these provinces will remain open.
At Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, where researchers discovered 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Residential School, community leaders will hold a community feast and powwow on the grounds of the facility on Sept. 30.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an important step for Canadians to better understand the pain and trauma many Indigenous people went through at these facilities.
“Recognizing this day is an investment in us and our children and our children yet unborn, so that the truth will prevail that we will all really be in the reconciliation stage with days like this,” he said.
Delorme told CTV News that work to identify those children buried on the site continues, but they have already been able to identify about 300 of them and markers will be made in the near future.
Education and spreading awareness is also key for this holiday. At the Cowessess Commmunity Education Centre, the area’s local school, students are taught about residential schools through craft projects and are encouraged to wear orange shirts.
“(We must) learn about our history, learn about our true identities, and … what their grandparents may have endured so that they can learn to appreciate what we have here in our community,” said Cowessess Community Education Centre principal Natasha Isaac.
Orange Shirt Day, also on Sept. 30, encourages people to wear an orange shirt and is inspired by the experiences of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who had an orange shirt taken away from her by residential school staff on her first day of school.
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Jeremiah Rodriguez
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.