Residential schools in Canada, the time of truth

It has become a habit in La Tuque, almost every week, especially since the first discovery of children’s remains, on May 27. Aboriginals appear in front of the Premier pas childcare center. They come to meditate and try to understand what happened right here when the residential school was in operation. “ They can’t find an answer, and that’s not really for me to give. The city must get involved “, proclaims Christiane Morin, director of the day care center.

→ THE FACTS. Canada: bodies of children found in residential school

Near the land where the boarding school was located, no information or plaque. For the director, it is like the deafening silence that surrounds this story: “None of the two books released for the hundred years of La Tuque mentions the existence of the establishment”, she explains.However, history is just a stone’s throw away. The brown wooden house of the priests who came to teach in the boarding school still overlooks the courtyard, where the children can be heard playing.

Forced to eat soap

At least 150,000 Aboriginal people, ages 7 to 16, have passed through residential schools in the past. The one in La Tuque remained open for fifteen years, between 1963 and 1978, managed by the Anglican Church, even though Ottawa had taken over its administrative management in 1969.

The Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Abel Bosum, was one of his residents in the 1960s. “Physical, emotional and sexual abuse in this institution. ” Pierrette Benjamin also attended what the Latuquois called “the Indian school”. She relates, before a commission that gave voice to these survivors, that she was forced to eat soap, after being caught speaking in her mother tongue: “The director (…) told me to swallow it. (…) And she said to me, “it’s a dirty tongue, it’s the devil who speaks through your mouth, that’s why it had to be washed”. So every day that I spent in residential school, I was mistreated. They almost murdered me. “

Madeleine Basile was sent 150 kilometers further north to the Pointe-Bleue boarding school run by the missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. She tells us that she still remembers the day of departure: “ My grandmother knew where I was being taken, she was inconsolable. I was separated from my siblings. I was a girl of the forest, and there, I was sent to a setting where the most turbulent were beaten with the brushes of the painting. My little sister died there when she was nine. We were told it was bone cancer … Laurianne Petiquay, director of the La Tuque Native Friendship Center, reports that her father was sexually abused there. “The priests attracted the youngest with toy bins. My father was only five years old. “

In Pointe-Bleue as elsewhere, Aboriginal children have run away in an attempt to find their parents. In 1894, the Indian Act exposed to prosecution those who did not send their sons and daughters back to residential schools. Frequently, they are not informed of the death of their children.

3,200 children are said to have lost their lives

And of the dead, those who managed these boarding schools seem to have buried many. Since the first announcement, just two months ago, more than a thousand anonymous graves have been found on the grounds of former residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked into the subject from 2008 to 2015 by allowing survivors to start expressing themselves on their experiences, estimates that more than 3,200 children have lost their lives in these establishments. . But many records of the dead have been destroyed. Last month, the judge who led the commission, Murray Sinclair, told theNew York Times that this figure could exceed 10,000.

In La Tuque, a town of 11,000 inhabitants, 30% of whom are indigenous, which covers a territory almost as large as Belgium, the need to know if children were buried at that time on the grounds of the boarding school s ‘is manifested. “We feel that there is interest”, says the head of the Council of the Atikamekw Nation, Constant Awashish. “Since the last discoveries of anonymous graves, people have been unpacking everything”, explains this man with the keen eye and the baritone voice. “Many remained traumatized, their spirits remained in the boarding school. The survivors never really made it home.They want excavations. »

The mayor, Pierre-David Tremblay, in his sixties, knows that searches are an inevitable issue. He says he is ready to put the means for them to take place, but he is awaiting the green light from the indigenous communities: “It must come from them, not from us “. Constant Awashish knows it: excavations will not solve everything. “Intergenerational trauma, it will not go away quickly Because the nightmare of the First Nations did not end with the closure of these schools. “Residential schools have emptied communities. There were no more children, therefore no more life. Social problems arrived, especially alcoholism. ” Between 2011 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada, the suicide rate was three times higher among First Nations than in the rest of the Canadian population, and alcohol consumption was also higher.

Apologies from religious institutions

Several religious institutions have already apologized. The Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches of Canada did it successively in the 1990s, before the Canadian government did the same in 2008. Catholic congregations, such as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (who administered about fifty boarding schools), also presented them. But for his people to continue their healing process, the great Awashish chief is waiting for those of the Vatican. ” Survivors need that kind of statement. Let the Church not apologize, I see it as misplaced pride. And, as you know, it is a cardinal sin. I think the Pope is afraid of the faith of the Natives! He says. He hopes that the visit in December of a delegation of indigenous leaders to Rome can make a difference.

→ READ. Canada: delegation of bishops and indigenous leaders to be received by Pope Francis

Recently a “Commemorative trail” was built in front of the crèche built on the grounds of the La Tuque boarding school. Only a few stones and grass. The mayor wants to find a way to better tell this story, with “A commemorative artistic piece” “I do not want to deny or hide. You have to say things “, he insists. “I could never have imagined, when I saw the native children in La Tuque, that they had been torn from their culture. I never heard them say that either. “

Families brought soft toys, hung from the trees in the nursery yard in tribute to all the Aboriginal children who never found their way home. And on the walls of the nursery, the Atikamekw language, once banned, is now written in colored capital letters, to promote a culture that we wanted to destroy.


Finally a law recognizing the rights of indigenous people

Canada has a total of more than 600 indigenous communities, scattered throughout its territory. They are grouped into three groups: First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

In 1982, Indigenous peoples are recognized for the first time in the Canadian constitution. But this recognition is not matched by recognition in terms of political and territorial rights.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by
the General Assembly on September 13, 2007, has not been signed by Canada. In December 2020, however, the Government of Canada tables a bill to implement it this summer.

In 2015, the conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has collected more than 6,500 testimonies collected since 2007, gives rise to a hundred proposals for more or less concrete actions. To date, few have been applied.


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