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"Myths" of Residential School

Honourable senators, I rise today to respond to a recently aired radio ad about the “myths” of residential school by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

I would like to briefly address and dispel the myths that this ad propagated.

Myth No. 1: The average stay was less than five years, and the vast majority of Aboriginal youth never attended a residential school.

Truth: Residential schools robbed me and many others from my reserve of our childhood, and most of the survivors that came from my reserve stayed over five years, many up to 10 years. It has also robbed our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their opportunity to learn from land-based knowledge in our own languages. Being robbed of my childhood has had lasting effects on my behaviours, attitudes and decisions to this day.

Myth No. 2: There is little evidence that abuse that was suffered by a grandparent had any effect on the academic success of the generations that followed.

Truth: Academic success depends on variety of factors, including intelligence, work ethic, determination, spirit, purpose and service. These were behaviours and attitudes I inherited from my parents and my elders which cannot be attributed to residential school or assimilation.

As a former residential school student, I have suffered my fair share of prejudice and discrimination. I have seen first-hand the effects that intergenerational trauma can inflict on families and communities. Residential school upended our way of life, and we as a people, including our children, are still reeling from this seismic shift as we continue to navigate a world that, at one point in my own lifetime, seemed incomprehensible.

Myth No. 3: Former students of residential schools retained more of their language and traditional culture than those who did not attend and are more active and likely to provide leadership in regaining their language.

Truth: As a former student, I was robbed of my language and culture. I went into the system speaking only Cree, the language given to me by the Creator, and I came out 11 years later speaking only English. As one Indigenous scholar said, “The robin doesn’t sing the sparrow’s song.”

In the past five years, I have started to regain my language, but I am still unable to speak fluently. It has been difficult for me to deal with the shame I inherited due to the brainwashing about my Indigeneity.

Honourable senators, when agitators are able to attract widespread attention and anger, it indicates that the general population has not fully embraced the need to understand and support their Indigenous neighbours.

These unprovoked attacks on Indigenous identity continue to create a situation of conflict in Canadian society. Canada is a leader in recognizing and celebrating the rights and freedoms of newcomers to maintain and practise their languages and traditions. Why then do Indigenous peoples need to continually fight for the same treatment and recognition?

Colleagues, I maintain that this ad aired by FCPP is detrimental to the cohesion of Canadian society, and I am greatly disheartened by its conception. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

Thank you.

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