Canada | Education

Mary Annette Pember: Healing from residential schools in Canada

A view of the Witness Blanket, a monument to recognize the atrocities of the residential school era in Canada. Photo from Facebook

Mary Annette Pember reports on efforts to heal from the harmful legacy of the residential school era in Canada:
Kristin Harder couldn’t bear to let her friend photograph the tiny braids that lay curled in their little box. Although dry with age, the hair was clearly that of a child, wispy and innocent.

The little braids in the box could very well have belonged to Harder’s birth mother, who attended Indian residential school and later gave Harder up for adoption during the infamous Sixties Scoop.

Harder’s reaction exemplifies the multi-layered impact of the generational trauma wrought by Indian residential schools on Canada’s indigenous peoples and the depth of the healing process for survivors and their families.

One of the first actions of Indian residential school administrators was to cut the children’s long hair, a terrible indignity for First Nations people that came to symbolize a cut with their cultures and families.

Mary Annette Pember: Truth and Reconciliation Closing Event
The braids were part of the Witness Blanket, an art installation of reclaimed objects commemorating survivors of Indian residential schools and part of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work in Ottawa last week. The Witness Blanket will be on display until July 9 in Ottawa City Hall.

The Sixties Scoop was a period from the 1960s through the late 1980s during which an estimated 16,000 indigenous children were taken—scooped up—from their families and adopted by non-native families. The children experienced a loss of cultural identity, their birth family, history and Indian status. The assimilationist practice formally ended in the 1980s, but the effects are still being felt today, and a number of adoptees are suing the government.

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Truth and Reconciliation: The Road to Healing Is Long and Arduous (Indian Country Today 6/8)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report:
Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (June 2015)

Related Stories:
Opinion: US and Canada hope Native people forget about genocide (6/8)
Mary Annette Pember: 'Cultural genocide' at residential schools (06/03)
Mary Annette Pember: Finding truth and reconciliation in Canada (6/2)
Michael Champagne: We are all victims of residential school era (6/2)

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