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TRC event marks move from truth-telling to reconciliation
Marcia Mirasty represents a growing number of Aboriginal people who are speaking out about being descendants of Indian residential school survivors.
In what Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair referred to as “one of the most significant presentations we have ever had,” Mirasty, accompanied by her mother, mother-in-law, and aunties, the older women all residential school survivors, likened the impact of Indian residential schools on those who never attended to the danger of second hand smoke.
“There are second hand impacts from residential schools and these impacts are called intergenerational impacts. And sometimes they are worse,” she said.
People returned from residential schools “deeply scarred,” said Mirasty, and that hurt was transferred to family and communities. Dealing – or not dealing - with the impacts of residential schools has led to people who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions, problem gambling, incarceration, violence and continue to have their children taken away. Residential schools operated for 130 years and crossed seven generations.
Mirasty’s analogy of second hand smoke and second hand impacts was one that former Prime Minister Joe Clark used later on during the four-day TRC national event in Saskatoon, from June 21-24.
“Once we can get the attention of the larger public that is a compelling message, one that I think will draw people to the side,” said Clark.
Mirasty, who has been working in the area of health for 20 years and presently serves as health director on the Flying Dust First Nation in Saskatchewan, also called for healing and reconciliation.
“Healing comes from the inside out,” she said. “The sooner we make the investment to heal, the greater the reward.”
She said her purpose for speaking that day was “to move forward in a deliberate way to reconcile, rebuild and restore our relationships, our families and our communities.”
TRC Commissioner Wilton Littlechild said the Saskatchewan event “signifies the start of the latter half of our mandate.” It is the fourth of seven events that the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement set out for the TRC to host over a five-year period.
“We shift our focus now from the emphasis on truth to an emphasis on reconciliation,” he said.
The time in Saskatoon marked the second largest statement gathering event held by the TRC. There were 68 statements presented in the panels, 29 in circles, and 143 private statements over three days. More than 15,000 residential school survivors, a record, registered for the event. Saskatchewan has one of the highest numbers of residential school survivors, with 29,000 applying for compensation through the Common Experience Payments program.
“What you are offering today is extremely valuable, not only to yourselves, not only to your families but for the generations yet to come,” said TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson speaking both of the gifts that were deposited into the Bentwood Box and the testimony. She assured that it all would be made accessible to generations to come in the national research centre “so no one can say they didn’t know (about the residential school era).”
The experiences shared by residential school survivors were intermixed with accounts told by intergenerational survivors, ‘60s scoop survivors, and foster care survivors.
Bob Pringle, former Saskatchewan Social Services minister who now serves as Children’s Advocate, choked up when he talked about how the closure of Indian residential schools has meant little change for youth and their families as the impacts continue unaddressed.
“More Indigenous children and youth are living apart from their families today than at the peak of the residential schools era. This is wrong. And this is totally unacceptable,” said Pringle, who added that inaction by non-Aboriginals has allowed this inequity to continue. He urged for open conversations.
“Children and youth are not future citizens. They are citizens now,” he said.
Forty to 50 per cent of those who attended the TRC event were non-Aboriginal.
“To the non-Indigenous community we sincerely, sincerely thank you for your understanding. When you leave here today don’t leave here with a heart that has any pity in it. That’s not what we want. We want your continued understanding, to pass it on to your colleagues, to your children, to your grandchildren, so that one day we will achieve the true principles of coexistence,” said Eugene Arcand, member of the IRS Survivors Advisory Committee.
A transfer ceremony saw the ashes from the ceremonial fire passed on to a representative from Atikamekw Nation of Quebec, where the next national event will be held in spring 2013. National events are also scheduled for British Columbia (fall 2013) and Alberta (spring 2014). The closing event will take place in Ottawa in June or July of 2014.
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