Wemindji’s residential school project, called “Healing the Generations,” began last March. It’s a one year project that will address the effects of residential schools, and is funded by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Over the October 4-6 weekend, the Wemindji Wellness Center organized and hosted their first residential school local community conference. The conference was postponed twice due to conflicting dates, but with hard work and patience the conference was finally got underway.
The Wemindji Conference was held in a traditional setting at kilometre 11, with plenty of traditional food and snacks to go around for those who attended. Organizers Kerri-Lynn Stewart and Flora Gilpin were pleased with the big turnout. There was plenty of food and entertainment, with the Old Factory Dancers square dancing.
The first day of the workshops began with Abraham Bearskin from Chisasibi facilitating a workshop called “The History of the Cree People of James Bay and Residential School.” Abraham did a breakdown of the local historical facts of residential schools. He then elaborated on the history of Residential Schools for Aboriginal people across Canada. Later on in the afternoon Abraham facilitated another workshop called “Why Residential School?” and explained the intentions of the government and what choices the Cree people had.
Later on in the evening Charles and Hazel Esau with trainee Virginia Diamond held an evening of fun-packed activities at the community hall. Charles sang the blues while Hazel and Virginia played games and danced with the kids. After finishing the activities the three went to the coffee shop and packed the place with people by Virginia entertaining the crowd by singing Karaoke. “When the people seen Virginia sing and dance the crowd kept coming,” said Kerri-Lynn and Flora, “it was so jam-packed in the coffee shop that the coffee machine broke.” On the final day, Hazel Esau hosted a workshop called “To heal the wounds.” It was an information session on how to help each other. It was to take a look at the realities of what may happen as the community begins to address the legacy of the residential schools in the community. Hazel also talked about how to be a support person to someone and how important it is to listen.
Finally, Charles did a workshop called “What about our Children?” This workshop examined what was happening in the community at the present time and how the community was coping with the impact of residential schools. Charles asked the people that attended the workshop to look at the behavior of the children in the community and how the community can approach healing in a positive and safe manner.
The people were then put into discussion groups and later made presentations to the whole group by sharing their views and their observations of the community and also voiced their opinions and recommendations on how to further pursue awareness on the effects and impacts of the Residential School Syndrome in the community.
The workshops ended with a closing circle. Everyone was given the opportunity to express what they had experienced at the conference, and the facilitators made themselves available for support to the participants. When all was said and done, Charles played a tribute song called “Took the children away.” It was a very touching song. It was also very emotional for some. After all the hard work done over the weekend a closing feast and give away was done.