June 9 2015
By Anita Corsi and Tara Henley
BELLEVILLE – It is time for recognition and compensation for the Native Canadians who attended residential schools and their families, says Loyalist College Aboriginal Centre staff member.
Dustin Brant says he is still trying to wrap his head around the events that transpired last week between May 31 and June 3 with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa where witnesses met in parliament to recount their horrifying experiences with residential schools.
“Not many students attended the residential schools back then [in the Quinte area],” Brant says. “But [aboriginals in this area] still weren’t allowed to speak their language. They still weren’t allowed to practise cultural activities … But at least they were able to go home to their families each night.”
The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to establish respectful relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians and to bring awareness to the 150 years Canada participated in the residential-school system.
According to reports published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, children between the ages of seven and 15 were forced away from their families and into facilities run by the Canadian government and church. The purpose of these schools was to assimilate native Canadians into European culture.
“Out of all the efforts to get rid of native culture and language, it’s still around. We’re still here. We’re still alive,” Brant says. “We made a positive out of something negative … and people have to know that. We’re a strong people and we’re not going to forget, because it’s going to make us stronger.”
Some reports estimate that up to half of the children who were forced into these schools died as a result of disease, malnutrition and abuse. Tuberculosis and similar diseases often went unnoticed and untreated, and the aboriginal children faced physical, mental and sexual abuse on a regular basis.
The last of the Canadian residential schools closed its doors in 1996.
Brant says he completely supports the efforts made for awareness of these issues by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and by Loyalist College itself.
“Some people choose not to believe it happened, or [they] say people just need to get over it because it happened a long time ago… It’s like me going up to a veteran and saying, ‘Just get over it,’” Brant says.
He encourages students to continue raising awareness and being as open-minded as possible when it comes to accepting and understanding other cultures.
“There’s a lot of different cultures that make up this wonderful country that we live in, and I think the biggest thing is respecting each other the way we deserve,” Brant says.
The commission deems the residential schools and the effects they had on native culture to be equivalent of “cultural genocide” in a summary report released Tuesday, June 2. The report makes a total of 94 recommendations, including a proposal to enforce teaching children in Canadian public schools aboriginal history and Canada’s involvement in the residential schools.