‘It was extremely emotional’

Published October 27, 2011

Students listen to Mik’maq drummers. Photo: Marites N. Sison

Halifax— About 600 students from various high schools here were greeted with a traditional drumming and smudging ceremony on Oct. 27 at the Atlantic National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Many students were wide-eyed, others swayed to the beat of the drums of Eastern Eagles, a group of Mi’kmaq drummers from Indian Brook, a reserve belonging to the Shubenacadie Band, in Nova Scotia.

The students, from grades 10 to 12, came to learn more about the experiences of aboriginal children who attended church-run, federally-funded Indian residential schools across Canada from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. Their visit marks the first time that groups of students have visited an event of the TRC, which was created in 2007 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The TRC has a mandate to document the experiences of former students and to educate Canadians about the 130-year legacy of residential schools in Canada.

Ashley Blois, a grade 12 student from Halifax West High School, said she had an opportunity to listen to two former students who spoke about the abuse that they suffered in the schools. “It was extremely emotional. There was dead silence in the room,” Blois said in an interview.

Blois said she and her peers are “more aware now than before” of the experiences of aboriginal people because these are taught in class. She herself was able to take a class devoted exclusively to studying Mik’maq history and culture.

Blois said it is important for all Canadians to learn about the residential schools and native history because “it affects everyone; it’s part of our culture.” Blois said she is particularly concerned about how the effects of residential schools have had an impoact on the lives of aboriginal youth who are of her generation.

While at the TRC “Learning Place,” students also had a chance to view exhibits and watch films about the schools. Among those with exhibits was the General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada. The Anglican church operated 35 Indian residential schools; the Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches also run similar schools.

Nathan Sack, a cultural consultant of the TRC, also introduced students to some aspects of Mi’kmaq culture and explained how history and culture “are intertwined.” Many aboriginal groups lost their language and culture because they were forbidden to practice them in residential schools, and many are now trying to recover them, said Sack.


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