This SEVEN Youth Media Network TRC Project formed the basis of an exhibit at Lakehead University for Aboriginal Awareness Week at the school.

Lakehead University Highlights Residential School Effects

Konnie LeMay

Aboriginal Awareness Week at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay culminates today and tomorrow with a focus on how residential schools affected not just those students who survived them, but also the generations that followed.

Residential schools, church- and government-operated, were created in the 1870s as part of an aggressive assimilation policy by the Canadian government. At their peak in 1931, 80 schools operated around the country, and eventually 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend. Up to 80,000 of those students are still living. The last school closed in 1996.

Today the Lakehead University Aboriginal Awareness Centre and the SEVEN Youth Media Network unveil “Healing the Legacy: a Residential School Project by Youth,” a multimedia exhibit in the Agora University Centre through tomorrow.

The exhibit, which uses stories, photos and artwork submitted by young people depicting their experiences and perceptions of residential schools, was organized by SEVEN, a Thunder Bay–based group founded to give young people aged 13 to 30 who hail from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) an outlet to communicate and connect through its magazine, radio programs and website.

“The main goal for this project was to build an understanding between non-aboriginal and aboriginal people,” said SEVEN director Grace Winter.

Such a focus is especially timely and relevant given the release on February 24 of the interim report compiled by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which emphasized education as a main tool for healing and moving forward.

Non-aboriginal people, when hearing about residential school’s devastating effects on the aboriginal community, have an attitude of, "It happened to you, get over it, it happened a long time ago," Winter said. However, she added, “Youth are still suffering the impact. This is a way of showing [that] this is what we’re dealing with. A lot of our families don’t know how to raise families. It’s not to rub it in anybody’s face or get them to feel bad. It’s more of an open platform and discussion.”

The exhibit deals with disturbing issues, relating stories of sexual abuse, addiction and domestic violence that the young people link to the resident school experiences of the generations before them. The gathering of the stories, videos and artwork were created over the course of a year, and many can be found on the SEVEN website under “TRC Project.”

“It’s honest and it’s truthful,” Winter said of the exhibit. “I’m just really grateful that our youth had the courage to submit their stories.”

After the 1 p.m. unveiling of the exhibit on March 8, there was a lecture on “Indigeneity in Education: the Evolution of Residential Schools” given by Dennis McPherson, chair of indigenous learning at the university. At 1 p.m. on March 9, NAN Deputy Grand Chief Mike Metatwabin will speak on “Surviving and Then Working with Survivors of Residential Schools,” also in the Agora.

Lakehead University has celebrated an Aboriginal Awareness Week every March since the founding of its Aboriginal Awareness Centre in 2000. There is also a nationally designated Aboriginal Awareness Week, launched in 1992, on the four days following the Victoria Day long weekend, which this year falls from May 22–25.

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makwaquay's picture
Submitted by makwaquay on
I am so happy that Lake head is taking a stand on this most historical issue affecting our people, the non native people have to be educated about this era that happened and the effects is still has on our families. I feel so angry when they say get over it. My experience is a personal one that I want to share, first of all when I was a young girl I witnessed children being taken away put into the black police car. And being petrified that they would some day take me. I did not go to residental school but I had 2 siblings that went and I truly believe that it affected us at home. I suffered the Sexual abuse at home by the black robe of the Catholic Church, and abuse in the Pic day School, I did not receive a good quality of education because of the teachers that Indian Affairs hired to work in our School, when I started High School I failed grade 9, and grade 10, by then I thought I was stupid, always failing, failing. I remained quiet and never spoke in school believing I was a stupid Indian. I realized later in life that I did not get the quality of education, when I started high school I had about grade 6 level going into grade 9. Any way from my past experience I made sure that our daughters got a good quality of education I am very proud to say that our youngest daughter Nicole had a degree in Law, she graduated from University of Toronto and is currently working in Thunder Bay at Erickson & Partners. Or middle daughter Chantelle had a doctorate degree and is currently working as a professor at the university of Western in London. and Michelle Richmond-Saravia has a Native study degree from Trent Unitversity in Peterborough, A Ba in Education from Lake head University and is currently completing her Masters in Education at Lakehead. I my self have returned to Lakehead to study my Ojibway at Native Language I have completed my second year and hopefully will complete in the future. Learning my language has been a dream of mine for years, I never understood why my parents did not teach us, and I later found out why, language and culture has been very important to me, over 25 years ago I wanted to find out about my self so I started to go to the Sacred Ceremony where I fasted in the Sun dance and many other different ceremonies. Today I know who I am my name is Standing Strong Woman, Windgo Con, Little People are my helpers, Makwa is my dodaim. I am a very proud first nation woman who is married to a non native but we have taught our children to be proud of both cultures but our daughter's always say they are First Nation Woman and I am proud of the them. Miigwetch-thanks for listening to me.