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Kookums tell youth of hardships

Thursday March 1, 2012

Most of the youth at recent Kookum and Youth circles in Sioux Lookout had no idea of the hardships their grandmothers faced.

Those stories were brought home to the young women during the workshops on Feb. 14-16, where Kookums told the younger generation of their experiences with residential schools.

Those present were students from the Equay-Wuk (Women’s) Group, students who traveled from Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school, two Elders, Emily Gregg and Juliet Blackhawk, and several other interested youth from the North who wanted to learn more about residential schools and the legacy.

The Kookums imparted their knowledge of the hardships they endured, and their strength and resiliency, while Sam Acheepineskum, Nishnawbe Aski Nation residential school coordinator, gave a historical overview of the beginning of the schools up to the Truth and Reconciliation process.

The event was quite an eye-opener for young participants. Most of them had no idea some of the history of atrocities done to those who are now elderly grandmothers and great-grandmothers. A form of interaction came between the two different age categories when kookums were asked to tell a story of an experience they had while either attending school or going away from home for school.

The organization also showed two films, the Long Journey Home and the The Life You Want.
Long Journey Home features women who went to St. Anne’s Residential School, along the James Bay coast, from Webequie. They told of a lengthy airplane ride to the school. One lady remembered vividly how she sat at the very end of the plane and could not even see out the window. She said she fell asleep during the ride.

Others talked of the abuses, not being able to speak the language, being banned from speaking to younger siblings, the loneliness, the endless chores, going hungry and not getting the right medical attention. The women traveled the same route to be at the workshops as when they went to the school initially. This time however, the women were given some form of healing and honoured in the vicinity. A sacred fire was lit for them, and a ceremony was conducted in order for them to continue on their healing journey.

The second film, entitled The Life You Want, featured Doris Slipperjack, who struggled with prescription drug addiction. The film follows her from Eabametoong to Rat Portage’s Treatment Center, Migisi near Kenora. Doris talked of her struggle for sobriety, single parenthood, peer pressure and daily struggles within her community.

Both films were strong in content and their purpose was to bring out issues regarding women’s struggles and how some surpass them.

The conference was simultaneously translated into Oji-Cree and will be broadcast on Wawatay Radio at a later date.

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