Spring session ended on June 2 and all of the MLAs have now gone back to work in their constituencies until fall session begins on October 4th. This session was quite a memorable one as we worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and saw first-hand how the government mishandled its pandemic response.
They failed to fill vacancies in our healthcare system (especially in the north) and actually made them worse. They failed to prioritize teachers for vaccines and instead asked them to travel down to North Dakota for a vaccine. They sent Manitobans out of province for ICU care, in large part thanks to their healthcare cuts. They also cut the education budget, forcing school divisions to make impossible financial decisions.
Two weeks ago, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School. As an Indigenous woman, a mother and as an intergenerational residential school survivor, this generated a major trigger in me. As a child, I experienced racism in the school yard and in my community. I was called a “squaw”, “drunken Indian” and told to “go back to my reserve”.
I always wondered and worried about why was I not accepted as an Indigenous person and questioned why are we so hated? It was to the point that I was ashamed to be Indigenous. I still experience racism to this day, even as an MLA in my own community. The discovery of the children in unmarked graves in Kamloops further proved to me that the hatred I experienced truly exists. This is the traumatic legacy of residential schools. I come from three matriarch generations of residential school survivors. My late mother went to St. Michael’s Residential School near Duck Lake, SK and Guy Hill Residential School near The Pas. I did not learn about this traumatic legacy from my early years in school.
I learned about the residential schools when I attended the University of Manitoba. It was then when I finally asked my mother about her experience in the residential schools. My great grandmother told us one day at dinner that she ran away from the residential school and hid under a bush at night to sleep. She had no idea where to find her way home back to her parents. She was eventually found by the school staff and was forced back to the school. That is where my great grandmother went quiet and ended her story.
In 2010, I worked as Special Project Manager for the Swampy Cree Tribal Council. I was working with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF). I was mandated to provide a safe space for survivors to tell their stories and provide healing services for residential school survivors. Unfortunately, the federal government cut funding for this project in 2010. In response, Niki Ashton, our MP for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, and I lobbied the federal government to extend the AHF funding. Our efforts soon received national attention when a petition was signed by many people across the country to drive the extension of the AHF funding. An emergency debate was conducted in the House of Commons chamber but the debate was defeated and the funding ended.
Why was there a deadline applied to residential school survivors’ grief and their healing journey? This did not make sense because survivors are still reeling with the impact of residential schools. The impacts of the residential schools are seen in our community, whether its depression or addictions, suicide, MMIWG and especially in the CFS system. We have survivors who are still hurting because their parents were unable to hug their children. Another impact of residential schools is that my generation cannot speak our language.
We must remember that a residential school once operated just 40 km from The Pas. Does our community know that? Is this terrible legacy being taught in the classrooms? I have hope that my children’s generation will be able to truly smile and NEVER be ashamed to be Indigenous like how I was when I was young. I truly believe that education about the legacy of the Residential School system will supress that stereotype, racism and discrimination against Indigenous people.
In response to this tragedy, the Manitoba NDP called on all levels of government to immediately implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 calls to action, including searching for all former residential school grounds to investigate whether similar mass graves exist.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience. Please stay safe. If anyone wishes to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns, please send me an email at Amanda.firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 1-204-623-2034. Kinanaskomitin.