GCC with Contin family

Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee with Charlotte Contin and her two daughters, Judy and Dot, examine the new monument honouring Anishinabek survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Photo by Marci Becking

NIPISSING FN – Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee says a new monument to honour Anishinabek  survivors of the Indian Residential Schools is a testament to their resilience.

Over 100 Anishinabek Nation citizens – including many survivors and their families – attended a March 25 unveiling ceremony at the Union of Ontario Indians head office in Nipissing First Nation.

“I’m always  amazed by the amount of resilience of our people,” the Grand Council Chief said. “The fact that I’m speaking English to you right now stems from the Indian Residential Schools system.  We lost our culture, our language…I attended a Federal Day School that had similar policies. The whole goal of the Indian Residential Schools system was to kill the Indian in the child.

“Life is like driving in a car,” said Madahbee.  “Sometimes you need to check the rear-view mirror to see where you’ve been; sometimes you see things pass you by beside you.  What Anishinabek need to do is look out that big windshield and keep moving forward.”

With funding from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the UOI legal department launched “Honouring Our Children, Families and Communities affected by Indian Residential Schools project” which includes resources including a book, videos and a website.

Survivors were also on hand to share their experiences.

“It’s important that people learn about what happened in Residential Schools,” said Charlotte Contin, a survivor from Henvey Inlet First Nation, who attended Indian Residential School in Spanish.

“I only have bad memories. My friend Christine and I were sick in the infirmary for two weeks.  One morning Christine who was across the room from me wouldn’t wake up.  She had died during the night.  The teachers told the other students that she died from an accident, but that wasn’t the truth.”

Charlotte said that she saw a lot of abuse and that she was sexually abused as well.

“There was so much abuse.  You would think that in a girls’ school that you’d be safe. It made my body stronger.”

Charlotte raised eight children and says that her parenting was affected by the experience.

“I saw the teachers use the strap, there was a lot of name-calling.  Lots of abuse. I never severely disciplined my children.

“I had a hard time bathing my kids due to the sexual abuse.  I just couldn’t touch them.”

Charlotte says that she didn’t return home until the age of 17 and wasn’t ever really connected to her family after that.

“I didn’t really know my siblings.  My parents were dysfunctional.  At the time I didn’t know that it was the government who had sent us to the school, but I didn’t blame my parents either.”

Charlotte says that she lost her culture and is taking Native Studies classes at Laurentian University.

“I’m going to share my experiences with the class; I need people to know what happened to my friend Christine.  They need to know what happened in those schools,” said Charlotte, who says she will be adding Christine’s name to a list of Anishinabek Nation survivors to be placed on the side of the monument facing East.

To add a survivor’s name, contact sealin@anishinabek.ca