Building Bridges of Communication

Pipestone Flyer

Over 150,000 Aboriginal children in Canada forcefully removed from their families, their homes and their communities

    “I am personally very excited to be involved with a community in the middle of Alberta (Wetaskiwin) that has chosen to come together and create this new history just because they know it’s the right thing to do.” This is the emphatic statement made by Charlene Bearhead Program Manager, National Day of Healing and Reconciliation, Native Counseling Services of Alberta as she prepares for her presentation to  the teachers  at Nipisihkopahk Secondary (Samson) School Theatre on April 19th. She will be following up with a repeat performance on May 16th in Wetaskiwin where she will be making a 90 minute presentation at the Building Bridges event.

    “I want to educate Wetaskiwin. I want them to know the history of our people and the impact of the schools and hopefully that will create some understanding and good relationship between the communities.” This strong statement was made by Lorne Green, Indian Residential School (IRS) resolution health support worker, Maskwacis Health services. Lorne has been helping with residential school claims since 2008.

Building Bridges hosted in Wetaskiwin on May 16th  is open to the public

    Charlene Bearhead will be one of several presentors who will be sharing knowledge and experiences in relation to Indian Residential Schools. Bearhead’s session is meant to raise the desire of all Canadians to learn from these devastating truths and to move forward in a good way and to develop positive and respectful relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people for a better future for all of our children and grandchildren. 

    “The 90 minute session on May 16th will basically bring together an intergenerational, intercultural group of community members from Wetaskiwin and Hobbema to learn more about the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools and to share perspectives to build relationships based on understanding, truth and respect.” Ms. Bearhead is currently serving as the Program Manager for the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation and the national coordinator for Project of Heart, both of which are hosted by Native Counseling Services of Alberta.  A primary focus in this work is the education of Canadians on the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada, as well as the impact of federal government policy on various cultural groups throughout the history of Canada.  The goal of both movements is to inspire, support and facilitate the building of positive and respectful relationships between all Canadians.

    Mayor Bill Elliot of the City of Wetaskiwin has been directly involved with the May 16th, Building Bridges event as a member of the planning committee. He shares why he is so supportive of the Building Bridges event. “As in any relationship, the better you understand the other person, the more you appreciate them and their history. Through many interactions with, and between, our communities we are gaining more knowledge and respect for each other. The Building Bridges workshop is another stepping stone on the path to living in harmony with our neighbors.”

Some of history of the TRC: Truth and Reconciliation

    The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience. The TRC hopes to guide and inspire Aboriginal peoples and Canadians in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.

    “In the 1800’s the government established 130 residential schools for Indian people across Canada.  Last one closed in 1996-1998.  In my family, 3 generations have attended – 1895, 1930 and myself in the 70’s.  There were two types of residential schools. Industrial schools where students would go for 5 years without any contact with family.   They were often far from the reserve and in the early years the family couldn’t leave the reserve without permission from the Indian agent.   The other type was the residential school where students stayed for 9 months of the year and went home in the summer.

    The intent of the residential schools was to re-program us; take the Indian out of us.  Lt. Richard Pratt, an Indian wars veteran said ‘Kill the Indian and save the man’. But he got the basic idea from a General who said “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”  Assimilation was the key.  Duncan Scott said, ‘we need to get rid of the Indian problem.  

    In the 1980’s and  90’s former students came forward and made claims of abuse against the residential schools.  Before that there was a federal study done on Canada’s relations with its aboriginal people. People came forward and talked about the traumas they experienced in the schools.  Phil Fontaine filed his claims as did others.  Courts felt overwhelmed.   They wanted to deal with all the claims collectively so churches, government and First Nations hashed out an agreement.  

    Residential students were given compensation for ‘common experience’ ie. a loss of language, culture, beliefs in the residential schools. The compensation was  $10,000 for the first year in the school and $3000 for each year thereafter.   80,000 people claimed for ‘common experience’.  Of that about 39,000 (they were expecting only 9000) have also asked for an independent assessment process, claiming physical and sexual abuse.  In addition the TRC was formed to gather stories from former students to create an historical archive. There have been TRC events in Winnipeg, Nunavut, Nova Scotia, Victoria and Saskatoon. Others will be held in Montreal spring of 2013, Vancouver in the fall 201 , Alberta and then Ottawa is the last one in 2014.”

    Charlene Bearhead sums it all up. “If we really want to look at decolonization we need to revisit our relationships with one another and build them based on acknowledgement of one another’s truths, respect and honoring of our different perspectives. Through Project of Heart we seek to come together as teachers, parents and community members to raise a new generation of young people who have had the benefit of having access to the whole truth about the treatment of Aboriginal people in Canada and to the strength of the culture that would not be exterminated.”

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