Survivors Lead the Way

Confronting the legacy of residential schools can be just as inspiring as it is sobering.

Starting out on this path, I’m not sure I realized just how much of the national discussion of reconciliation has been driven by survivors themselves.

It was, after all, a class-action lawsuit by thousands of survivors that forced Prime Minister Harper to apologize for schools in 2008.  And that led directly to the Truth and Reconciliation process, from 2008 to 2015. The 94 Calls to Action, the acknowledgment by Parliament that Canada had committed genocide, the new statutory holiday added to the calendars of Canadians, all of that occurred because former students of residential schools got the ball rolling in the first place.

Take the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. This is the group for whom the Remembering Project has been contributing our research efforts.

After one historic school reunion in 1981, former students began organizing to hold the school to account for all the abuse they suffered there.  One key organizer called Mike Cachagee helped mobilize those returning students into the CSAA, and later he helped found the National Residential School Survivor Society. Through these organizations he helped coordinate survivors from a wide range of former schools, who had not previous been connected.

Then, when the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found evidence of children's graves on the grounds of the Kamloops First Nation in 2021, survivors of schools came together to force a national reckoning.

After two years of meeting and organizing, survivors are preparing to tell all of us what direction Canada must now take.  I’ve been fortunate enough to observe some of their National Gatherings, as survivors debate how to account for all the missing children, how to manage the emotional trauma the search resurfaces, and how to secure the help Canada owes them to find each and every last resting place.

From June 11 to 13, Special Interlocutor Kimberly Murray is convening a final National Gathering on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.  As survivors prepare to tell Canada what we need to do to help them undo the damage we caused, the Remembering Project will be organize to prepare a suitable response from Canadian civil society.  Where survivors lead, we must be ready to follow.

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