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'I AM Affected' campaign addresses effects of residential school system

Officials and schoolchildren outside Providence Mission Indian Residential School. LibraryArchives/flickr

We're all affected by life experiences. Most of the time, we manage to suck it up and just get over it. But, what if the event happened while you were very young? What if the abuse went on for years, or even decades? What if it happened at the hands of adults who were supposed to care for your spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing? What if the trauma left you without ties to your family, community, or traditional ways of life? You may see yourself as an island trapped in a sea of despair. That's not so easy to just get over.

Historical background
In 1818, the British government negotiated Treaty 19 with the Mississauga Nation in order to obtain 648,000 acres of land that included Halton Region. That's when the Sixteen Mile Creek reserve became home to the Mississauga Nation.

By 1820, the British had managed to acquire the Sixteen Mile Creek reserve leaving the Mississauga Nation with a mere 200-acre reserve on the Credit River.

In 1847, the Credit River Mississauga accepted an offer from the Six Nations Iroquois to settle on 4,800 acres of land on the Six Nations Reserve near Hagersville. Their descendants became known as the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation.

Then, the Indian Act passed by Canadian Parliament in 1874 imprisoned Indigenous peoples on reserve lands, making them legal wards of the state. Every aspect of their lives was subject to approval by government-appointed Indian Agents.

The Indian Act set about 'enfranchising' Indigenous Peoples by creating the terms of reference for 'status' and 'non-status.' Women and girls were effectively stripped of their human rights and ancestral powers.

In 1884, Ottawa passed legislation creating state-funded, church administered Indian Residential Schools. The Mohawk Institute was the first residential school to open its doors. Located in Brantford, this school was the longest continuous running school until closing its doors in 1962.

By 1920, the federal government mandated all Indigenous children had to attend residential school from age seven to 15.

In 1928, the Sexual Sterilization Act was passed in Alberta. Anyone attending a native residential school could be sterilized upon the approval of the school Principal. At least 3,500 women were sterilized under this law.

In 1933, British Columbia passed the same Sexual Sterilization Act. The United Church established sterilization centres in Bella Bella and Nanaimo. Thousands of native men and women were sterilized right up until the 1980s.

That same year, residential school principals were made the legal guardians of all native students. This law required Indigenous parents to surrender custody of their children or face severe sanctions, including imprisonment.

From 1946 until the 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency used students from Canadian residential schools as involuntary test subjects with the consent of the churches.

During the 1940s and 50s, Health Canada used children from residential schools in medical experiments.

In 1965, the provincial and federal governments entered into an agreement to close the doors of residential schools. Unfortunately, it took until 1996 for the last school to close its doors. In the meantime, the schools were replaced with enforced adoption and in more recent times, removal of Indigenous children from their families of origin by child welfare services.

The International Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (December 9, 1948) established the United Nations definition of genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

Using this checklist, the Canadian government committed genocide at all residential schools across the country.

Intergenerational trauma
The residential school experience created a lasting legacy within Indigenous communities and settler society that continues today. One piece of that legacy is intergenerational trauma.

Intergenerational trauma is the transmission of historical oppression and its negative consequences across generations. Intergenerational trauma impacts the health and well‐being of victims and their descendants. This trauma predisposes Indigenous peoples to social inequalities.

To help settlers understand the ongoing effects of the Residential School System on survivors, their families, their communities and Canadian society, Hamilton Community Legal Services is launching the I AM Affected campaign

Residents of Halton will have the opportunity to:

  • Hear the voice of Dennis Saddleman as he reads his poem, Monster. A survivor of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Saddleman shared his poem while testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013.
  • Watch a Healing Jingle Dance performed by Hollee George in honour of Survivors
  • Participate in a Round Dance
  • Enjoy the music of the Red Spirit Singers
  • Learn more about the ongoing Truth and Reconciliation process in Halton

"The Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee include some that are addressed directly to public servants and to the justice system of which we are a part," stated Colleen Sym, Executive Director of Halton Community Legal Services.

"We are grateful for the opportunity provided by the Oakville Community Foundation and the Kenny Family Foundation to share with the community a part of our work pursuant to call to action 57- providing education on the legacy of residential schools and intergenerational trauma, Sym continued. "Halton Community Legal services, its staff and board, are committed to the ongoing work of establishing respectful relations as we learn to practice reconciliation in our everyday lives."

Master of Ceremony Sherry Saevil, Indigenous Education Advisor for School Services with the Halton Catholic District School Board, will provide an overview and guide the evening's program.

To open the event, The Red Spirit Singers will perform a Welcome Song. Then, Norma Jacobs, an Elder of the Six Nations of the Grand River, will offer a Thanksgiving. Following that will be an Acknowledgement of the Land by Paula Laing, Coordinator, Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, Student Affairs, Sheridan College.

Lyndon George, Aboriginal Justice Coordinator, Hamilton Community Legal Services and Fallon Melander, Policy Counsel, Aboriginal Justice Strategy, Legal Aid Ontario will provide information about Indian Residential Schools and the I AM Affected campaign.

"The campaign was developed to initiate conversation and provoke thought on the Canadian Indian Residential School system and the intergenerational trauma caused by that system," said George.

"The campaign features intergenerational survivors of the residential school campaign as a means of educating Canadians of our existence in modern day Canada. The campaign was also designed to educate Canadians on other oppressive, discriminating and racist actions imposed and affecting Indigenous people such as the 60's scoop; Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Trans; Racism and Discrimination," said George.

Campaign launch
Attend the I AM Affected Campaign launch for an evening of inspiration, information and healing.

The official launch of the I AM Affected Campaign will be the start of an ongoing dialogue to lead the residents of Halton from a place of acknowledging the Truth to one of action in order to achieve meaningful Reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Halton Region and Canada.

Emotional support will be available.

I AM Affected campaign launch:
When:
Thursday, October 19, 2017 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for networking and enjoying light refreshments

Where:
Queen Elizabeth Park and Cultural Centre
2302 Bridge Rd., Oakville, ON L6L 3L5

Register by October 16 here or call Halton Community Legal Services at 905-875-2069.

Click here for more information on the I AM Affected campaign.

Image: LibraryArchives/flickr

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