Treaty 2 Territory – The past few days have been difficult for First Nations and Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. Our hearts go out to residential school survivors and surviving generations in the recent findings at Kamloops Indian Residential School. It will take more than one day, one week, or one year to repair and reconcile because, sadly, we know that this will not be the only finding as there were over 139 residential schools across what is now Canada.
Residential schools are not a distant history that can be “forgotten” and no one can (or should) tell First Nations (Indigenous) peoples to “get over it.” We are told to commemorate and remember historical events, dates, and individuals all the time. Justice Murray Sinclair stated: “Many people over the years have said ‘Why can’t you just get over it and move on?’ And my answer has always been ‘Why can’t you always remember this because this is about memorializing those who have been victims of a great wrong. Why don’t you tell the United States to get over 911? Why don’t you tell this country to get over all the veterans who died in the Second World War instead of honouring them once a year? Why don’t you tell your family to stop thinking about all your ancestors who died? Why don’t you turn down and burn down all of those headstones that you put up for all of your friends and relatives over the years? It’s because it’s important for us to remember….And this Nation must never forget what it once did to its most vulnerable people.”
In 2001, Behind Closed Doors: Stories From the Kamloops Indian Residential School was written by Agnes S. Jack of the Secwepemc Cultural Society. Within it, are stories of those who attended Kamloops Indian Residential School. Shirley Sterling wrote My Name is Seepeetza in 1992. In Sterling’s book, she tells a creative non-fiction story through the diary of young girl about “Kalamak Indian Residential School,” which is said to be about Kamloops Indian Residential School. The girl, Seepeetza, often refers to the school by its acronym, “KIRS.” Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School was written in 1988 by Celia Haig-Brown. It, too, has stories of those who attended Kamloops Indian Residential School. One story shared: “My older brother, he wanted to prepare us for our life. Like he was teaching us how to fight and he taught us that we shouldn’t cry if something happened to us….He wanted us to be tough. (Alice:15)” (Haig-Brown, pp. 55). There are many intergenerational effects from residential schools including an avoidance of grief and crying because one had to be “tough” in those schools. Awhile back, Andrea Landry wrote a few pieces for FNT2T Life Long Learning on reclaiming and renewing Indigenous kinship and ways. She emphasized the healthiness and importance of grieving as a natural healing response to pain and loss: “The revitalization of our kinship systems is founded on the revitalization of our relationships with our own human emotions. Because those schools taught us that it wasn’t safe to feel.” Here are links to those writings by Ms. Landry (Anishinaabe):
Take care everyone. Please remember to take time and be gentle with yourself, pray in your own way, and reach out to a trusted friend or family member when needed. There are resources for support: Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program (IRSRHSP) 1-866-818-3505 and the 24-Hour National Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419.
At the end of her book, My Name is Seepeetza, Sterling writes: “If Yay-yah is in the mountains where we go to pick berries, I’ll ask her to make a buckskin cover for it. I’ll ask her to bead fireweed flowers on it” (pp. 126). The fireweed is a powerful flower.
Sources: My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (1992, Douglas & McIntyre); Resistance & Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School by Celia Haig-Brown (1988, Arnsenal Pulp Press); and, Senator Murray Sinclair’s Response to Lynn Beyak’s Residential School Remarks, CBC News, March 29, 2017.
Submitted By: Donna Beyer, Keeper, Life Long Learning
Last modified: June 1, 2021