“Kill the Indian in the child.”
Pretty harsh statement, but that was the reality of Canadian education policy when it came to our indigenous peoples, Splatsin Chief Wayne Christian reminded listeners at last week’s school board meeting.
In addition to Christian, Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson and a number of aboriginal people attended to call for action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations as they relate to changing the education system.
As part of the presentation, residential school survivor Beverly Saul of the Neskonlith band spoke of her experience in residential school – and how the generations of such treatment ripped apart the fabric of their lives.
From age nine to 12, Saul was taken from her family along with her brother and forced to live at the school. Despite being at the same school, the siblings were totally separated. Saul saw her family twice a year, at Christmas and Easter holidays, before being returned for a summer break.
“It was like going back to strangers. We didn’t know each other, we didn’t know how to communicate.”
While she learned some skills: cooking, sewing and laundry, she was also taught to be ashamed of who she was and where she had come from.
“It took me a long time, taking courses and educating myself about the trauma to find some healing, to find a connection to my land and to my people,” said Saul, whose hope is for her grandchildren to learn of their culture without leaving home.
As a parent, I can not comprehend the profound loss of having my children taken from me. I can not imagine my babies not getting tucked into bed at night with kisses and loving words, instead being turned into strangers, spending their days being told their family are heathens or worse.
To think of what Saul and the hundreds of others suffered, it really takes my breath away. It’s so difficult to imagine how such a thing could happen in Canada. But happen it did.
Canada is not immune from racism, or, as Christian pointed out “cultural genocide.”
Christian spoke of how, as a boy in Enderby, he would walk past signs reading, “No Indians, no dogs.”
A shameful legacy for this country to bear.
The band members see the future and know that it will take time to change. They also know that one of the best hopes for change is by educating our children – native and non-native.
They are looking for substantial efforts to include aboriginal curriculum into our schools, especially by adding information and history about the bands in this area specifically.
Sharing stories was discussed as a powerful way to connect. Their hope is for elders to be able to share, and teach as a way of enhancing pride and understanding in all our young people.
“What we need our education system to do is put the Indian back into the child,” says Christian.