The healing starts at home. Inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings last spring, a Chisasibi committee organized a home-grown program September 5-8 to help local residential school survivors confront and heal the pain of their childhood ordeal.
The committee ran groups at the local auditorium and the event culminated with two special ceremonies at the former sites of the residential Catholic and Anglican schools on Fort George Island.
According to volunteer Ancita Mae Allain rainy weather interrupted plans to host the program at Fort George Island because the barge to the island wasn’t running.
“On the first day there were probably only about 20 people who showed up. But as the days went by, more and more came. In the end, we had between 75-100 people who showed up at that feast on the island,” said Allain.
The local meeting was run like the national events held by the TRC, said Allain. The group provided a forum for survivors and their families to discuss what had happened to them and provided a group of health support workers for those who found themselves in distress as a result of their participation. The meetings were made public and broadcast over the local radio.
This was the result of an initiative by event planners Daisy Bearskin and Daisy Ratt, who believed that these stories needed to be out in the open.
After the first speakers, Emily and Larry Wash, made their statements about the impact that residential school had on their families, Allain said other individuals began to trickle in, adding their names to the speakers’ list and divulging their own traumas from residential schooling.
According to Nellie House, who also helped in the planning of the event, the local gathering was long overdue.
“This is something that I have wanted to see happen for so many, many years because the way our community is with the high rates of alcohol and cocaine abuse, sexual abuse and other abuses. I have always felt that this is where it all came from. Residential school was the root. In order for things to change in this community, this was what we needed to do and now we are doing it. This is our first local residential-school healing gathering for the community and it is a very good thing,” said House.
Once the weather cleared, participants made their way to Fort George Island for what House described as a special releasing ceremony at the ruins of the two schools. Survivors were asked to write letters to the Creator or God, expressing how they saw those schools and their first days spent there. The letters were then burned at the respective sites.
According to Allain, it was the Sunday event that had the largest participation as entire families returned to these sites with multiple generations ranging from those who had attended the schools to their most recent descendants.
“At the site the children were running around and playing. You could just tell by the looks on these people’s faces that they were happy to see this, these children laughing and running around in the bushes. This was because they were not allowed to do that when they were there in those areas as children,” said Allain.
The success of this inaugural healing event will lead to, at the very least, annual gatherings to help continue the process of healing for residential school survivors, Allain promised.