By Second Lieutenant Joffray Provencher, The Guard –
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), at the University of Manitoba, has unveiled the names of 2,800 children who died in residential schools during a ceremony that took place in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, on Monday, 30 September, 2019. This event of great sensitivity officially broke the silence on the fate of some 4,200 young people who died during the decades the residential schools operated. “Today’s event was to return these children home—to allow communities, family members, Nations and regions to once again have their names,” said Ry Moran, Director of the NCTR.
In 2018, the NCTR received funding from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) to implement Call to Action 72, which calls for the creation of a national student memorial register and the documentation of the history of these children who went to residential schools. It is estimated that approximately 150,000 young Indigenous people were removed from their homes and sent to various residential schools across the country between the time the first schools opened in the 1880s and the last school closed in 1996. “These are the children of Canada who were lost because we let them out of sight and left them in harm’s way as a country,” said Dr. Marie Wilson, former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “And we did that legally by laws and policies that we put in place to make it happen.”
The faint smell of incense perfumed the packed Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of History on the last Monday morning of September. The informative pamphlet and ceremony program revealed that the purpose of the event was to raise Canadians’ awareness of what the residential school survivors went through and to allow these survivors to collectively share the grief of this dark moment of history. “Fundamentally all of this work that’s been happening in regards to truth telling is bringing information out of the shadows and into the light, and today we’ve brought these students names forward so that they will forever be known,” said Ry Moran.
The enormous stage that dominates the museum’s Grand Hall that is adorned by two large totem poles nearly six stages high was the location of a gathering worthy of Indigenous traditions. The audience heard moving testimonies from residential school survivors, sober speeches from well-known members of the Indigenous community and NCTR spokespeople. The speeches were interspersed with beautiful artistic performances by Jeremy Dutcher, Red Sky Performance and the musical group PIQSIQ.
The voluntary participation by military members was solemn and honest, giving room to the speakers and artists. Corporal Loren Scalplock was given the role of holding the Eagle Staff and held it proudly on stage throughout the entire ceremony while other members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) were assigned to protect the commemorative banners. A number of people also wore orange shirts, a symbol honouring all residential school survivors and inspired by Phyllis Jack Webstad, an elder from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation and her first day at residential school in 1973 at the age of six. “In our many visits with survivors and communities across the country, the question of what was being done to honour these children was central in every discussion,” said Mr. Moran. “Survivors told us that these children deserve to be honoured and remembered; that it would be a profound failure if we were allowed to forget this history as a nation.”
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of the names of 2,800 children who were able to be identified through research. The names of these children are listed on a 50-metre-long red cloth; the cloth, like a burden, was carried by numerous family members, loved ones and dedicated individuals. To the sounds of a gentle piano melody, with heavy hearts, the bearers wound through the rows of spectators, all visibly moved. “There are no shortcuts,” said Senator Murray Sinclair, Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, about efforts dedicated to the children who never came home. “Today we have released the names of these students so that they are remembered forever… (but) when it comes to truth and reconciliation we have to go the distance.”
- Members of the Defence Team across Canada and in the National Capital Region have access to various awareness and information resources. The National Champion is Lieutenant-General Jean-Marc Lanthier, Command of the Canadian Army, and in our region, the role of local champion is undertaken by the Canadian Forces Support Unit (Ottawa) Commandant, Colonel Angela Banville.
- The mission of the NCR Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (NCR DAAG) is to advise commanders on significant issues regarding the lives of Indigenous peoples working at DND and serving in the CAF. Group members support the chain of command in its mandate to raise awareness of Indigenous issues, recruitment and retention, and also acts as a forum enabling Indigenous people to exercise their unique cultural, spiritual and traditional identities. Please do not hesitate to contact them for more information.
- The next event to note on the calendar is National Aboriginal Veterans Day on 8 November, 2019. It is a day of commemoration of the contributions of Indigenous veterans in the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War. A ceremony will take place on the morning of 11 November, 2019 just before the national ceremony held at the National War Memorial, at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument.
- To find out more on the role that Indigenous Veterans played and their military efforts to our country over the years, please visit the Indigenous veteran’s
- The Memory Project is a group of volunteers who pair-up Veterans and active Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members with schools and community events all across the country to spread their stories of service. Our speakers have spoken to more than 3 million Canadians since 2001.
Title image and photo 1: CFSU(O) Public Affairs / Second Lieutenant Joffray Provencher
Photo 2: Tammy Pizendewatch, whose mother attended a boarding school, helps to hold a ceremonial garment to honor children who died in residential schools. Credit: Jean Delisle, CBC.
This post is also available in: Français (French)