By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY – The harrowing effects of Residential Schools were explained in a hushed auditorium at a special Reconciliation learning event held at St. Joseph-Scollard Hall Catholic Secondary School.
Nipissing First Nation member George Couchie led the presentation Zoongaabwidaa Giizhgad – Standing Strong Together. Couchie of the Red Tail Hawk Clan was Leo Deloyde’s cultural teacher about five years ago. Deloyde awoke to Canada’s truths and is now an active member of Reconciliation North Bay. Reconciliation North Bay now has a website at reconciliationnorthbay.ca.
Deloyde is also the interim Coordinator of North Bay’s Urban Aboriginal Strategist at the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre. In his opening remarks Deloyde said cultural learning in the city promotes social and economic inclusion of Indigenous Peoples. He added that through understanding, racism and barriers can be reduced.
Ojibwe Language Teacher at Nipissing – Parry Sound Catholic District School Board, Tory Fisher, gave a prayer in Anishinaabemowin.
A Residential School Survivor then told of his pain as his mother dejected him when he ran away from Residential School, telling him, “You don’t belong here.” It would be years before he forgave his mother, later learning that his parents faced jail if they harbored him. Chum was one of two in his family of 12 children that went to college. Four died tragically Chum says. “Six are not doing well.” As a child, Roger Chum spent over five years at Bishop Horden Memorial Hall in Moose Factory.
Chum told me after his talk that of a good friend of his froze to death up north trying to go home. “There are all kinds of sad stories like that.”
There are some that said Residential Schools were good for them, giving them skills and tools to persevere. There are some, like me, that went through a lot of trauma. “I give myself two choices in the morning. I always choose the positive.”
Chum is works with Indigenous students at at Canadore College as a counsellor. “Many of them come with a Residential School background and many have intergenerational trauma. You can identify it right away because their challenges reflect mental or emotional or unfortunately sexual abuse. I can identify with that.” Several of the students Chum sees are from Attawapiskat, and Albany, with many travelling from Quebec’s Cree communities. “I’ve witnessed their trauma. What about those that can’t tell their story?”
The resilient father of six is positive about the future. “I have three sons from a previous relationship. They are not doing well. But I have three children from a newer relationship. Kewin is 23; Cree is 22; and William is 18. And they are all doing well. That’s because I stopped that cycle. I stopped the abusive attitude I had in my previous relationship. It’s what I learned in Residential School. I can say to my children that their children will not experience what I went through.”
The momentum to encourage actions of Truth and Reconciliation continues says George Couchie. National Indigenous Peoples Day will have children from all school boards gathering for a huge celebration in the parkland behind Memorial Gardens.
Recently, the OPP recognized Couchie for his work in developing the program, Walking the Path, a native awareness training utilized by the OPP. He has been made Honorary Inspector.
This session was the third of four sessions planned during the month of November- the first week of being designated Treaties Recognition Week. The next cultural learning session titled Celebration will incorporate Story, Dance, Drumming and song.
To close the evenings teachings, George Couchie, Tory Fisher and Alysha Allaire, an Indigenous Language Teacher, sang a celebration song.
About 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their parents, removed from their communities and forced to attend Residential schools. When TRC Chair, Senator Murray Sinclair estimated 6000 children died while attending the schools. George Couchie estimates many more children died. There are 80,000 Residential School Survivors currently in Canada.