A tool for education is what Comox Valley elder and residential school survivor Evelyn Voyageur would like to see with the findings from the conclusion and report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“I’m hoping yes, we can use (the report and findings) to educate people, especially the ones who haven’t heard about (residential schools), but it’s not complete. There needs to be more.”
The former nurse and regional director who worked with residential school students says while racism continues to “be good and alive” for First Nations people across Canada, she hopes the recent closing events of the TRC and report will aid in teaching, but explains more needs to be done.
Voyageur was nine years old and living on Gilford Island when she was taken away from her family and forced to attend St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay.
Last week, the TRC used the term ‘cultural genocide’ for what happened to the 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children and their families.
The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement identified 139 residential school across the country, with the last school closing in 1996 — Gordon’s School in Punnichy, SK.
Justice Murray Sinclair – chair of the TRC – made 94 recommendations or calls to action for change.
“Some people are very interested and very hopeful to be a part of the healing,” says Voyageur. “I’ve heard some non-natives say we need some healing too, we need to walk with you.”
Some of the recommendations include calling upon the government to adopt a United Nations declaration that would lead to aboriginal self-government and self-determination and a Royal Proclamation which would make Aboriginal Peoples full partners in Confederation; a statutory holiday be established and a call on the Pope to issue an apology to residential school survivors for the Catholic Church’s role in the abuse.
Although she hopes the report will help in healing, she questions how the commission went about collecting stories and interviewing individuals.
“There are so many, many stories that are untold. How did they go about selecting people?”
Voyageur acknowledges the recommendations, but notes the only way to fully understand the pain from the trauma experienced is to listen and teach both former students and the next generation.
“We need to bring (their stories) into schools and teach (aboriginal students) how to cope with anger. Then there will be less violent people. God made us and God made me – we’re made in His image. He’s a good person. People become bad; those who become the murderers and the thieves are all from what happened to them – their trauma and experiences.”
She hopes schools, educators and other institutions offer constructive skills of relationship building and learning how to care for one another.
“I saw it in our culture before we got so westernized. It’s missing now – we don’t care enough. I hope we can bring back our culture. We have to.”