Closing a sordid chapter in the history of Canada


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Remember, reconcile, rejoice.

The three words that prompted City Scope to embark on a field trip this week to Chippewas of the Thames First Nation for the student commemorative gathering at the site of the former Mount Elgin Indian Residential School, near Muncey.

The two-day ceremony included the unveiling of a monument to the survivors of residential schools – a sordid chapter in this country’s history that eluded the radar of most Canadians until the
creation, in 2008, of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, whose mandate is to bring to light the truth about these schools and enlighten the populace.

Opened in 1851 and operated by Wesleyan Methodists in conjunction with the Department of Indian Affairs, Mount Elgin was sold to Christian Indian leaders as an opportunity to train their children to be political leaders, teachers, missionaries and interpreters.

That may well have been the case with some students but, in fact, Mount Elgin was a not-very-subtle move to assimilate First Nations people.

Wednesday morning, a seven-pillar monument was unveiled bearing the names of more than 1,100 students who attended the school from as many at 18 First Nations communities.

Pictures of Mount Elgin bear a striking resemblance to Alma College here in St. Thomas – a scaled-down version of the landmark built in 1878 that dominated the cityscape until its demolition by neglect in 2008.

The comparison ends there.

The former finishing school for girls is a quantum leap from Mount Elgin, whose deplorable conditions and harsh regime hallmarked a curriculum hell bent on cultural genocide.

“We want this commemoration to honour the strength and resilience of those who were forced to attend the school here so many years ago,” stressed Joe Miskokomon, Chief of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

“It’s about turning something that was very negative for so many of us into something we can all be proud of and leave behind for future generations.”

Cree political icon, Elijah Harper, who survived residential schools in Manitoba and went on to become MP for Churchill in northern Manitoba, and today remains a strong advocate for indigenous and human rights, told the large gathering the policy of the government at that time “was to assimilate us . . . to extinguish our people and I can say that because it’s written in black and white if you read the text books and if you read some of the debates that have gone on in Parliament.”

In essence the residential schools were designed to take the Indian out of the child.

“But today, we see they have failed,” Harper asserted. “But, there are many of us who need to be healed, to reconcile with what has happened.”

It was Harper, in 1995, who called for a Sacred Assembly to promote Aboriginal justice through spiritual reconciliation and healing between non- and Aboriginal peoples.

And it was the efforts of this Sacred Assembly that led to the federal government declaring June 21 as National Aboriginal Day.

The day chosen to honour the survivors, not just of Mount Elgin, but of similar schools across Canada.

“We want to make sure that future generations understand and never forget the impact residential schools had on our families and communities,” advised Chief Miskokomon.

“We are now at a point in history when we are ready to turn the page on this legacy and begin the work of true reconciliation so that we can move toward the future.”

We would all do well to celebrate more than arrival of summer on June 21.

“It’s a celebration of Aboriginal people, not just for our people but for all of the people of Canada as a whole,” reminded Harper.

“To share this land we call Canada, our home. To enjoy the standard of living that Canada enjoys.”

OUR READERS WRITE

Reader Lynn Fleming poses a question about Mayor Heather Jackson’s trip to Xuyi, Jiang’su Province, China which is now a sister city to St. Thomas.

“I’ve always thought that Bowling Green, Ohio was our sister city. Remember our Ohi-Ontario Games? I was wondering . . . Did we divorce Bowling Green?

To re-cap, the Ohi-Ontario Friendship Games ran from 1992 to 2001 and were established to “demonstrate a community approach to international goodwill by promoting active living in the sister cities of St. Thomas and Bowling Green,” according to the official history of the games.

The games were postponed in 2002 due to “a number of concern, in particular consistent low numbers of participants and volunteer commitment,” reads a press release issued at the time.

We contacted Jackson to determined the status of the sister relationship with Bowling Green and she advised neither she nor CAO Wendell Graves is certain about the status of the agreement.

On the heels of the mayor’s trip to China, what more appropriate time to reacquaint ourselves with our older sister.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Your worship. I’m sorry, I may be speaking futuristically.”

Proving he can see into the future, Ald. Gord Campbell is quick on his feet after inadvertently referring to Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands as the mayor at Monday’s council meeting. “I made a slip and I had to pass it off some way,” laughed Campbell following the meeting.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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One thought on “Closing a sordid chapter in the history of Canada

  1. School runaways and concerned parents often cited poor conditions and overwork of the students in their criticisms of the school. In 1943, the Council of the Chippewas of the Thames presented five sworn statements detailing poor diet and spoiled food, lack of medical care, severe strapping and physical abuse, and inadequate winter clothing. [15] A man who wrote the school after his employee’s son ran away observed, “Glad I wasn’t born an Indian if I had to be a boy at Mount Elgin Institute.” [16] For their part, many parents wrote letters, visited school authorities, sought the backing of their band councils, and even contracted legal assistance in their efforts to have authorities right what they considered wrongs committed against their children.

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