For Grace Winter, the effects of residential school on First Nations youth are still very apparent.
Winter, the director and founder of Seven Youth Media Network, told an audience at the Healing the Legacy conference during Lakehead University’s Aboriginal Awareness Week that she constantly sees the intergenerational effects of residential schools while doing interviews and in the writings of the magazine’s contributors.
“Every time we speak to youth it always comes back to Residential Schools,” Winter said. “Whether they learned not to be like their parents who were impacted by Residential Schools, or whether they are still dealing with the impacts of Residential Schools themselves.”
Seven Magazine has spent the past year exploring those intergeneration effects. They put much of what they learned on display at Lakehead last week, in part to help Aboriginal students continue their own understanding of the issues they deal with and in part to help non-Aboriginal young people understand the impacts that their First Nations peers are dealing with.
Winter said the event reflected much of the mission of Seven Youth Media – to give a voice to Aboriginal young people while helping to share Aboriginal culture with the rest of Canada.
“We needed that platform for our voices, for us to express all the things we go through,” she said of Seven Youth Media Network. “But also to express that we are a part of this country and we want to share our culture with everyone.”
The closing ceremony was highlighted by an emotional speech by Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief Mike Metatawabin, a Residential School survivor from Fort Albany.
Metatawabin emphasized that many people are still in various stages of healing from the Residential School experience – from those who have not started addressing all of the pain that they hold inside, to people like himself who have spent decades working on dealing with the pain and are still working on it today.
“Over the years I have heard too many people say ‘get over it,’” Metatawabin said. “It’s not that simple. It is something that is in you. It needs to be worked on. It needs to have healing.”
Metatawabin attended St. Annes Residential School in Fort Albany.
“You have no idea what those schools did to those children,” Metatawabin said. “We were there. We saw how those schools stripped the dignity of those innocent children.”
“We have so many children who never returned home,” he added. “That’s another chapter that needs to be told.”
Metatawabin said it is essential that the true history of Residential Schools get taught in schools all across Canada. That would help non-native Canadians understand how long it will take First Nations to heal from the tragedy of the schools, he said.
“This chapter is still alive, and is something that occupies our time addressing,” Metawabin said. “It’s not that simple to wipe it away. I hope mainstream society can assist us in working with our families to heal and to assist the generations still to come.”
Brent Kelso, the director of Lakehead University’s Aboriginal Awareness Centre, said the event was a chance for students to hear from the source about Residential Schools.
Kelso’s comments were echoed by Nicole Mackay of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, president of Lakehead’s Native Student Association.
“It’s an important initiative to educate the public about the lasting effects of Residential Schools,” Mackay said. “It’s not just a First Nations issue, it’s an issue that affects all of Canada.”
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