Tell your children how you survived: Justice Sinclair

Grandchildren of residential school survivors help them celebrate missed birthdays. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Grandchildren of residential school survivors help them celebrate missed birthdays. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published October 31, 2011

Halifax-For many of Canada’s aboriginal children, the residential school experience taught them to hate themselves, their families and their culture.

At the conclusion of the Atlantic National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), Marie Wilson urged former students to remember that “love was at that place and you were that love.” It manifested, said Wilson–who is a member of the TRC-in the way students helped each other survive.

From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, about 150,000 aboriginal children were put into residential schools across Canada. Many were physically, emotionally and sexually abused. The Anglican Church of Canada operated 35 of these schools.

Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, said that while not all native children went to residential schools, there is no aboriginal community in Canada that has not been affected. Aboriginal communities are plagued by a lack of education and high rates of crime, suicide, addiction and other “dynamics that wouldn’t be allowed to exist in any other community” in Canada, said Sinclair.

He urged former students to share their experiences with their families. “It is important that your children know how you survived; you have a great deal to teach them.”

The event closed with a community feast and birthday celebration for students, most of whom never got to celebrate their birthdays with their families when they were growing up.

The grocery chain, Sobey’s, donated 1,000 cupcakes that were handed out by representatives of churches to former students, their families and people. Grandchildren of former students-most of them ages 4 to 8-sang “Happy Birthday” in Mi’kmaq, Inuktitut, Cree, French and English. TRC Commissioner Wilton Littlechild noted that these children were about the same age as their grandparents were when they were taken from their families.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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