Just over a year ago, an anthropologist using ground penetrating radar made the heart-breaking discovery of the remains of two hundred children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Canadians were jolted by this news. Suddenly the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report about the existence of these graves (estimating 3200) became very real. To date, examination of the sites of 14 residential schools have revealed the probable remains of 2111 people, most likely children.
While most of these schools were located in the prairies and western Canada, all citizens across the country were complicit in this effort to “solve the Indian problem” through “absorption into the body politic.” The responsibility to walk the path of Truth and Reconciliation falls on all of us across this land. For example, here in Mississippi Mills, we recognize the contributions of William Thoburn during the early years of our town. He was a prominent industrialist, several times mayor and Conservative MP from 1908 to 1917. Yet, during Thoburn’s time in office, Dr. Peter Bryce, public health physician, presented a report about the appalling conditions in Residential Schools. Both times Bryce’ concerns were dismissed by politicians like William Thoburn. Indeed in 1920, the Conservatives amended the Indian Act to make attendance at Residential Schools mandatory.
As a result, Indigenous children from our area living at Pikwakanagan (a First Nation Community near Eganville) were forced to go to Shingwauk, the Residential School in Sault St. Marie where there are 120 graves of children and staff. These children were taken when they were 5 years old and not returned until they were 18. By then they had lost their language, had no knowledge of their culture nor even knew their relatives who they had not seen for all those years. Meanwhile back home their families were prohibited by law to pursue their cultural and spiritual practices or even to gather in large groups to share food. Our neighbours at Pikwakanagan continue to struggle with the resulting intergenerational trauma.
On Saturday June 18th, Mississippi Mills All My Relations is sponsoring a fundraiser at Almonte United Church to mark National Indigenous History Month. During the afternoon there will be a fair with Indigenous traditional food including moose meat, wild rice, corn soup and Bannock and crafts for sale. This will be followed in the evening by a concert provided by a half dozen Indigenous musicians titled “Buskers for Survivors.” The concert will include a special appearance by Amanda Rheaume. Tickets for the concert can be purchased at Tickets Please.ca.
The funds raised by this event will be split between the Indigenous Residential Schools Survivor Society and Children of the Shingwauk Alumni Association The IRSSS is the only registered charitable organization of its kind that provides direct services to assist individual IRS survivors. It provides a crisis line 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of his or her Residential School experience. It also has made contributions to survivor related organizations such as the http://shingwauk.org/srsc/ located in Sault Ste. Marie.
MMAMR wishes to express our gratitude to Elder Tony Belcourt, a Metis resident of Almonte and recipient of the Order of Canada, who has brought together a wonderful group of Indigenous people to share their crafts, food and music.