This week, Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS) announced an initiative to educate students about residential schools and the impact these institutions have had on Aboriginals.
The project, called “Roots of Reconciliation,” will provide students with presentations, art work and meaningful discussions about the legacy left by residential schools.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, approximately 4000 students died during the 150 years of residential schools as a result of the lack of care for those students and the poor conditions of those facilities (which facilitated the spread of diseases).
Many children were forcibly taken away from their families and taken to institutions where they were not allowed to speak their mother languages. And on top of that, many were sexually abused.
Even if someone was not taken to one of those institutions, they might have been raised by someone who was. Healthy parents have better chances of raising healthy children; and the opposite seems to also be true. If someone was abused for over a decade, I would imagine that raising children of their own would present some challenges.
The legacy left by residential schools, as well as the misconceptions and hidden resentments between First Nations and non-First Nations reflect in every aspect of our society.
Surprisingly, some of these residential schools remained in operation until 1997. But until a recent past, nobody talked about what really happened in those institutions.
An entire generation was raised without knowledge of what was really going on in residential schools, which led to hidden resentments toward First Nations. These misunderstandings were passed from generation to generation, increasing the gap between First Nations and non-First Nations in our society.
Understanding the impact these schools have had on First Nations is essential to diminish misconceptions and prejudice, but most importantly, to start the healing process.
About a year ago I spoke to John Lagimodiere, owner of Aboriginal Consulting Services. This organization in Saskatchewan visits companies across the province to educate employers about the legacy left by residential schools and the challenges that Aboriginals face today.
According to Statistics Canada, the annual unemployment rate in the country for Aboriginal Peoples living off reserve was 11.6 per cent in 2013, compared to 6.9 per cent for non-Aboriginals.
According to Lagimodiere, Aboriginals are not equal competitors in the labour market in part because of the consequences left from residential schools. Through education, his company seeks to diminish the myths and misconceptions employers might have about Aboriginals.
The same principle is now being applied in schools across Canada. The initiative to include education about residential schools in the school curriculum is vital to start the process of healing and acceptance.
Although this LDSS initiative is an important step, we all know it will take time for First Nations to heal from all the horrors they have had to endure.
Knowing what really happened is an important step. Hopefully more and more schools across the country will follow the example of LDSS and realize the important role schools play in diminishing prejudice, as well as in assisting with the healing process of all First Nations