For generations, countless First Nations, Inuit and Metis suffered in Canada’s Indian residential school system.
Established in the late 19th century, the schools — which were run by churches of various denominations — separated children from their families in order to assimilate them into Western society, and severe traumatization and abuse took place as a result. Residential school survivors began to take the government and churches to court in the 1980s for the damage done, with the last residential school closing in 1986.
One local church is attempting to right past wrongs by holding a special gathering this National Aboriginal Day. On Thursday (June 21), Christ Church Trinity in Invermere will play host to a workshop led by Invermere resident Deb Fisher that will look at the impact of what happens when one culture imposes itself on another.
“We’re aware of the mistake our church made and we’re really keen to heal it and have more inclusivity,” said Nadine Hale with Christ Church Trinity. “We know we made mistakes and we have to carry that with us.”
Fisher, who was born and raised in Invermere and is currently the aboriginal education support worker at David Thompson Secondary School, has 16 years experience working with residential school survivors as a residential school trauma team worker with Akisqnuk First Nation.
“She’s going to start by giving information historically on what happened,” Hale said. “(But) her big focus will be how this continues to happen in the present situation.”
“It’s understanding where the behaviour has come from, not excusing it, understanding,” Fisher told The Valley Echo. “It’s easy to dwell on the past but there’s a lot of good happening as well and a lot of people are working really hard.”
The discussion will also bring the issue into a wider context in order to examine how people, even in their personal lives, may be imposing themselves on others.
“[Fisher] will give us tools to move away from that,” said Hale, adding that even German youth continue to carry the burden of the past Nazi regime. “She’s a person of a lot of positivity and a lot of hope.”
At the national level, churches have been working on reconciliation and they are encouraging local communities to have a parallel movement and bring it down to the community level, Hale said.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized to victims of the residential schools for the abuses they endured, and the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings were held in 2010 in hopes of resolving the wrongdoings of the past. Yet suicides rates among young Canadian indigenous people remain high while serious inequities related to child welfare, housing, water, health and income continue to be prevalent in indigenous communities.
“It is a shared history of a broken relationship,” said Hale.
The event, which coincides with the resumption of the TRC hearings on June 21, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Christ Church Trinity. It will end with a celebration of traditional food, including bannock and smoked salmon, and everyone is welcome to join. For more information, contact the church office at 250-342-6644 or Hale at 250-342-4473. To view the live streaming of the TRC hearings, visit http://www.livestream.com/trc_cvr.