Residential school survivors speak at historic hearings
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, June 16, 2010 9:03PM EDT
Hundreds of aboriginals gathered in Winnipeg Wednesday to share their stories of abuse suffered during years of living in Canada's disgraced residential school system.
The hearing was the first in a series of seven national events being run by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aims to document the physical and sexual abuse and other horrors endured by children at residential schools across Canada.
"You will not be questioned. You will not be asked to prove anything. You do not have to share anything that you do not wish to share," commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair told those in attendance.
The Winnipeg hearing runs until Friday.
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their homes and forced to attend the government- and church-sponsored residential schools over a period of more than 100 years, beginning in the 19th century.
The last school, in Regina, closed in 1996. There are about 85,000 former residential school students still alive across Canada.
Most children were forbidden from speaking their native languages and many were physically and sexually abused.
Manitoba's deputy premier, Eric Robinson, has said he never got to know his mother and was sexually abused in the residential system.
Survivor Robert Joseph, B.C. hereditary chief of the Kwagiulth nation on Vancouver Island, told CTV Winnipeg he hopes the event starts the healing process.
"Us survivors are going to benefit by being able to tell our stories and release the anger and the resentment," he said.
Joseph told the crowd it took him nearly all of his 70 years to share the "dark, ugly, painful, degrading, dehumanizing secrets" of his residential school experience.
Joseph said the sexual abuse he endured, as well as the loss of his culture, left him angry, ashamed and an alcoholic.
"I didn't know how to raise my family. I was just so angry ... I don't want to pass my anger on any more," he said.
Survivor Gerald McIvor said he appreciates the opportunity to speak out about what happened to him, telling CTV Winnipeg that "disclosure here is great to heal the victims. (But) what about rehabilitating the perpetrators? Nobody is addressing that."
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo acknowledged that the hearings need the support of the wider Canadian public if they are to be successful.
"It's going to be entirely dependant on the average Canadians to embrace, learn and understand," Atleo told CTV Winnipeg. "It's going to be dependant on the school systems to share this."
During one of the day's happier moments, the gathered crowd cheered when Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl announced the government plans to remove the section of the Indian Act that allowed aboriginal children to be removed from their homes and sent to the schools.
"So we need to work obviously with First Nation and aboriginal organizations to say, ‘This needs to be deleted. The minister shouldn't have this kind of power,'" Strahl told reporters. "But how do we make sure that, like we do anywhere else in the country, that kids get an education?"
The Winnipeg event is the first of seven national commission events to be held over the next four years.
The official program started Wednesday with the lighting of a sacred fire and a pipe ceremony.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg's Laura Lowe and files from The Canadian Press