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The Power of an Apology

By Angela Bellegarde, OKN’s Manager of Indigenous Strategy

Angela reflects on the Pope’s recent apology for the Catholic’s Church role in Canada’s Residential School System.

It was a difficult week watching the news coverage of Indigenous representatives meeting with Pope Francis in Rome in March 2022. I looked at Chief Mary Ann Day-Walker, long-term chief at Okanese First Nation located down the road from my First Nation and wondered what she must have been feeling. I saw Chief Phil Fontaine looking like he was shouldering a huge weight. I am old enough to remember the first time Chief Fontaine travelled to meet the Pope. In fact, that week I thought a lot about our Indigenous leaders who have met previously with a sitting Pope. The outstanding Metis Leader, the late Jim Sinclair, met with Pope John Paul II at least four times. Was this time going to be different? If our leaders had hope, acted with dignity, and were in Rome to honour all Residential School Survivors, I must have hope too. We are still here.

Conflicted About my Spirituality, I Took Action

Cedar roots by Angela Bellegarde - cropped

Photo credit Angela Bellegarde

Three generations of my family went to a “Catholic” Residential School. Their traditional spiritual teachings and practices were replaced intentionally by the Catholic nuns and priests who ran the Residential School. I was raised Catholic and until fairly recently experienced a great deal of cognitive dissonance about my spirituality. I now engage in spiritual practices of the Plains Cree people and respect the teachings of all religions. I smudge with traditional medicines, respect the teaching of the elders, and attend sweats when I can. I continue to learn every day the meaning of wisdom, love, respect, courage, honesty, humility, and truth. These are what my Catholic-school-attending children experience in my home. My heart soared when my daughter was confirmed in the Indigenous Saint Kateri Tekawitha’s name. My son wore his traditional ribbon shirt to the mass. The dissonance continues but we are still here, and we have never left.

Adding to the complexity of my feelings is the fact that I had a non-Indigenous uncle who was an Oblate priest. I never really thought of him as a priest though. He dressed like the rest of us, drank beer on a cold day, and had strong opinions about the Bishop and the powers that be in Rome. Father Paulo worked in community development in the jungles of Brazil. We referred to him as “my uncle the priest in Brazil,” but I learned from Brazilian expats that he was also known as the “rebel priest”.  He worked tirelessly to organize Indigenous farmers to protest the appropriation of land by the Brazilian government for foreign multi-nationals to develop. This is somewhat ironic, given that it has taken over 25 years for my First Nation to settle our land claim with the Canadian government. We are still here; we have never left.

One Step in the Journey toward Indigenous Truth

The morning of the apology, I watched Chief Phil Fontaine hold a press conference in St. Peter’s Square. I couldn’t help but think that three generations of my family have visited that square, my grandmother to see my uncle ordained and me as a tourist many years later. In fact, I was lucky enough to see Pope John Paul II make a rare appearance at his balcony. Six days later, on April 2nd, 2005, he passed away. Prior to my departure from Italy, I went back to St. Peter’s Square for evening prayers, where Pope John Paul II body laid. A historical moment to be sure.

April 1 was another historical day. The day of the Pope’s apology was one of surrealness and joy. I wanted the apology to happen for the Residential School survivors, and our Indigenous leaders who fought so hard for it. I was relieved to see Chief Fontaine respond to questions with a levity I hadn’t seen all week. In fact, I teared up with emotion thinking about the power that the apology holds for Indigenous people. The Pope’s apology is an important step in healing and redressing the wrongs of the past. It recognizes the “Truth” that we must all learn and face as Canadians; only then will meaningful Reconciliation occur in this country. It is an apology that recognizes that we were always here, we never left, and we will not leave.

Hiy Hiy, Angela.

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional Resources:
Read Pope Francis’s full remarks, apology for abuses by some Catholic Church members in residential schools | CBC News
Indigenous Literacy Resources
National Indigenous History Month
The Doctrine of Discovery, 1493 | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Pope John Paul II Dies
Jim SINCLAIR Obituary

National Indigenous History Month: Reminiscence and Revelation of a Non-Indigenous Person

By Janice Robinson, Halton Children’s Aid Society executive director

My journey of Truth is an attempt to reconcile what I thought was the truth about a place I lived in when I was young, with what I later learned when Indigenous Peoples, events, communities, and most especially children entered my life.

I am humbled to share my reckoning of what I thought was Truth, and to plot my journey backward, recasting memories, overlaying them with new knowledge, and reforming them with Truth. I am humbled to declare how my new way of seeing old memories, inspires my leadership in a child welfare agency today.

 My First Learnings about Indigenous Peoples

Map

I moved to Brantford, Ontario when I was 5 years old.  Brantford is named after Chief Joseph Brant, who I was taught, forded the Grand River to claim the territory granted to him by the British government in payment for his bravery in the American Revolution.  There is a statue of him in the town square in Brantford that I looked at many times as a child.

I was taught by my parents that the town of Brantford is on land that was owned by the Six Nations Indigenous Peoples, and that we took it from them. The Six Nations people lived on a reserve. My home was on a street, that if followed south would lead eventually to the Six Nations reserve and the town on that reserve, Ohsweken.  I was taught that we weren’t allowed to go there.

I also lived about a fifteen-minute walk from an abandoned school on large grounds; an empty and imposing building where kids used to go to school.  I did not know who the children were or why they stopped going there.

Finally, I was taught that a small, white church on a road near my house called the Mohawk Chapel was built by Indigenous Peoples, but they didn’t go to that church anymore.  Once, the Queen went there and there was a plaque outside the church commemorating that event.

This is the sum of what I knew about my community and its Indigenous roots until I was 13 years old. In high school I took Canadian and American history but learned very, very little about the original peoples of North America.  We mostly learned about the ‘settlers’ and ‘explorers’ who came from far and claimed this land.

What I did learn was that every day, buses would arrive carrying kids from the Six Nations reserve to our high school.  The bus arrived on time in the mornings but picked up Six Nations children early every day, so they had to line up at 2:30 pm in the hallway while school was still in session.  Everyone knew which kids lived on the reserve. There was no school on Six Nations and ours was the closest high school.  Those kids stayed together.  Some joined team sports but couldn’t go to tournaments because of the bus schedule.

 My Indigenous Understanding Began Later in Life

I share this to tell you that I live in a community that is rich in Indigenous history, culture, contribution, and foundation.  I never appreciated any of those things until well after I graduated from university and went to work at the Children’s Aid Society of Brant. There I met Indigenous social workers and community leaders from both the Six Nations and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations.  I received an education from each of them, not just through watching and listening, but through the stories they told about the origin of their communities and their history, as taught to them through generations of storytelling.

One social worker I remember most vividly had a sign on her office wall.  I remember that sign to this day though not the exact wording: We honour and protect all of our people, some are dead, and some are living, but most are not yet born. To me, this phrase represents the resiliency of Indigenous Peoples.

I finally learned that the big abandoned school I lived near when I was a kid was the “Mohawk Institute” or “The Mush Hole”, one of the oldest Residential Schools in Canada which was still operating when I walked past it in 1968. In fact, it didn’t close until 1970.  There were children in that school when I played nearby.  I never saw them.  This haunts me.

 Acknowledging the Role of Child Welfare System in Indigenous Inequity

Cute teenage girl, crouching on river bank, dreamily lets a water deroplet fall from her finger

I have worked in child welfare for 34 years now.  Only recently has the Ontario child welfare system came to reckon with its role in the perpetuation of genocidal policies and forced assimilation of the Residential School System.  I participate in this reckoning, through my own journey of Truth seeking.  I use whatever influence I have, to make space for the Truth to be told by and for Indigenous Peoples.  I hold deep respect for this process, and I hope to make all the changes within my power toward this Truth and toward Reconciliation.

I acknowledge that I am one small ripple on an endless surface of complacency; however, I will never stop.  Even when I retire from my position, I will share what I know and how I know it with whomever will listen.

In May, I received a request from the Chiefs of First Nations in Ontario for information, data, and evidence of child welfare intervention in the lives of children, youth, and families of their communities. It contained an extensive and comprehensive set of questions and information requests from Ontario’s children’s aid societies.

The response to their request will require scrutiny of our practices at an organizational level and at the personal level. It will require case review and file crawls. It will disclose the way in which our interaction with First Nations children and youth was characterized by our biases towards First Nations families, communities, and history.

Halton Children’s Aid Society will respond fully with this request.  This compels us to both seek and provide the Truth so we can cross the bridge toward Reconciliation.

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional Resources:

The National Residential School Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419
OKN Indigenous Reconciliation
Indigenous Literacy Resources
Principles of Truth and Reconciliation

Two Voices on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Introduction by Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

On September 30th people across Canada will observe the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the fulfilment of Call to Action #80 in the Final Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, completed back in 2015. In Halton, plans are underway for Truth and Reconciliation walks, ceremonies, and other events for residents. Some of you will be continuing your journey of Reconciliation, while others will certainly be called to begin their journey through participation in these events. Many Canadians are hopeful that marking this important day each year to focus on the Truth will bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people closer to Reconciliation.

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In the following dual blogs, Our Kids Network member, Joanna Matthews and OKN Indigenous Lead, Angela Bellegarde, write about their own unique journeys to discover, learn, and share the Truth; and about their hopes and aspirations for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Halton and Canada.


A Personal and Professional Reflection from a Non-Indigenous Perspective

By Joanna Matthews, Vice President, Services, Reach Out Centre for Kids ROCK
Co-chair, Our Kids Network Community Planning Table

I am a white European woman and use the pronouns she/her. As a small child, I immigrated to Canada from the colonizing country of England, which maintained a class system. My family on both sides were from the working-class. In the mid-60s, when my parents were given the opportunity to be sponsored by the British government to move to a commonwealth country, they chose Canada. I recognize this sponsorship as a privilege, but even so we were still poor working-class newcomers immersed in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. I experienced the exclusion, discrimination, prejudice, and struggles that most newcomers endure, and I worked to overcome these hardships.

Sharing Experiences as Part of a Reconciliation Journey

It was not a stretch for me as part of my career to take on the position of executive director at the Halton Multicultural Council (HMC) in 2002. I was aware of my white privilege, had a good understanding about systemic discrimination, and knew how I could use my platform to make changes. Reflecting on my years at HMC, I recognize that I learned through experiences that demonstrated my lack of understanding regarding the Truth about Indigenous people in Canada and their struggles. These learnings have stayed with me to this day and I am sharing some of them in this blog as part of my own Reconciliation journey.

Read more


An Indigenous Person’s Truth; and Thoughts on the Meaning of This Significant Day

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On September 30th, the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we are all called to commemorate and honour Indian Residential School Survivors and those children who did not make it home. Establishing this day directly relates to Call to Action #80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. As a First Nations person, who descends from three generations of Indian Residential School Survivors, I have been contemplating what this means to me, and to my children who are the next generation of Indian Residential School Survivors.

Residential Schools Took Away Language, Culture, History, and Pride

My Mooshum (grandfather), Maglory Bellegarde, was the twelfth Indian enrolled at Lebret Indian Industrial School, later called Lebret Indian Residential School. All of his children and grandchildren attended this institution as well. My Aunts and Uncles would say that “it wasn’t so bad”, and I am sure it was better than many of the other Indian Residential Schools that we have come to learn about over this past summer. However, the very fact that they were forced to attend demonstrates the unjust and genocidal practices of the Canadian government of the time.

Read more

A Personal and Professional Reflection from a Non-Indigenous Perspective

By Joanna Matthews, Vice President, Services, Reach Out Centre for Kids ROCK
Co-chair, Our Kids Network Community Planning Table

I am a white European woman and use the pronouns she/her. As a small child, I immigrated to Canada from the colonizing country of England, which maintained a class system. My family on both sides were from the working-class. In the mid-60s, when my parents were given the opportunity to be sponsored by the British government to move to a commonwealth country, they chose Canada. I recognize this sponsorship as a privilege, but even so we were still poor working-class newcomers immersed in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. I experienced the exclusion, discrimination, prejudice, and struggles that most newcomers endure, and I worked to overcome these hardships.

Sharing Experiences as Part of a Reconciliation Journey

It was not a stretch for me as part of my career to take on the position of executive director at the Halton Multicultural Council (HMC) in 2002. I was aware of my white privilege, had a good understanding about systemic discrimination, and knew how I could use my platform to make changes. Reflecting on my years at HMC, I recognize that I learned through experiences that demonstrated my lack of understanding regarding the Truth about Indigenous people in Canada and their struggles. These learnings have stayed with me to this day and I am sharing some of them in this blog as part of my own Reconciliation journey.

A number of years ago, HMC was hosting the first nationally recognized Multiculturism Day event. This was part of three significant days observed in June (St. John Baptiste Day in Quebec, National Indigenous Peoples Day, and National Multiculturalism Day). We were busy signing up groups to participate in our event, and one day were visited by members of a local Business Improvement Association (BIA). One visitor asked how I was supporting the recognition of Indigenous people in Oakville. I thought I was being very inclusive when I invited this distinguished individual to join us at our event. His response has stayed with me to this day. He asked, “How can I support you to celebrate newcomers to Canada, when my people are not recognized?” I was aware of the tragic history of Indigenous people in Canada, but I was not yet open to the Truth which would enable me to react, feel and walk with Indigenous people as I was trying to do for newcomers.

Part of the work for all staff at HMC was providing training to other organizations and professionals in order to achieve our vision that every individual, regardless of race or ethnic origin is accepted, by fostering mutual respect and understanding.

I often used this ice breaker exercise to begin meetings. Everyone in the room was asked to stand. I would ask attendees to sit down as a question applied to them. …Please take a seat if you were born outside Canada…if your parents were born outside Canada…grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents… An attendee would only remain standing if they were an indigenous person or of Indigenous heritage. While this exercise was meant to recognize Indigenous people as the only true “first people of Canada”, it was dismissive and potentially traumatizing. I was trying to demonstrate that we are all newcomers at one time or another, but this negated the significance of Indigenous persons in the room. Additionally, I did not create a safe space for Indigenous people to remain standing as there was nowhere to go from this exercise as a position of value. I could not truly see what I was perpetuating in attempting to be inclusive.

Moving Towards Reconciliation with My Family

From a family perspective, one of my brother-in laws is Métis from Calgary and another had a brother who was part of the Sixties Scoop child welfare project. Neither of my brother-in laws talked very much about their experiences and we did not try to explore this knowledge with them. This is another example of our family being close, having knowledge, but not quite in a place of supporting or seeing the Truth.

My son chose to go to university in Thunder Bay. We were excited because he would have the opportunity to be fully engaged in the outdoors, take Indigenous studies, and even a course to learn the Ojibway language. Sadly, he did not experience Thunder Bay as he had thought he would. He encountered many Indigenous people in difficult positions, suffering from discrimination and the effects of the generational trauma that resulted from Residential Schools. He did not know how to handle these circumstances or what to think.

These situations and learnings were opening our family to the reality of the Truth about Indigenous people Canada, but we still did not know what to do or how we could become allies.

Taking Concrete Steps to Learn and Understand

When my son was away at school, I began to read more about the true history of Indigenous people, I took courses and added Indigenous authors to my reading. I attended many Indigenous events and speaker-series in Halton to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of Indigenous people by hearing directly from Indigenous people. When the Truth and Reconciliation Report, and volumes of stories and facts became available, I purchased the volume that dealt directly with the prairies and read the stories of my brothers-in-law’s ancestors. Our family read, shared, and discussed this together. Now, we continue to share readings, websites, testimonials and more as part of our family’s journey.

Through my current position at ROCK, I have had the amazing opportunity to work closely with the Peel Indigenous Centre and Enaahtig Healing Lodge. Carefully and with great respect, I have learned so much and continue to work alongside them.

National Day for Truth and Recognition brings Us Together to Reflect and Continue Forward

As a non-Indigenous person, I think my experience is not unique. We can know but don’t necessarily understand; we can understand but may not have gained the deeper connection; and we need to challenge ourselves to move. Therefore, for me the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation means that we can collectively move forward. We need to be authentic in recognizing and commemorating the legacy of Residential Schools. As a non-Indigenous person, this day has significant meaning to me because it will create space to collectively hold our minds and hearts together to deepen our learning and understanding of the Truth.

I believe a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provides an annual opportunity for all of us to reflect on the previous year and see what we have done to move towards Reconciliation. I recognize that some people feel that observing significant days, weeks or months only provides a focus once a year, but I don’t see it that way at all. I see observing significant days as the ability to shine a spotlight and provide a vehicle to take responsibility.  The senior team for ROCK has been busy preparing for our full staff meeting on September 30th to commemorate the traumatic legacy of Residential Schools. This will become part of our journey as an agency, to deepen our knowledge and work toward our responsibilities under the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action.

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.

An Indigenous Person’s Truth and Thoughts on the Meaning of This Significant Day

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On September 30th, the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we are all called to commemorate and honour Indian Residential School Survivors and those children who did not make it home. Establishing this day directly relates to Call to Action #80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. As a First Nations person, who descends from three generations of Indian Residential School Survivors, I have been contemplating what this means to me, and to my children who are the next generation of Indian Residential School Survivors.

Residential Schools Took Away Language, Culture, History, and Pride

My Mooshum (grandfather), Maglory Bellegarde, was the twelfth Indian enrolled at Lebret Indian Industrial School, later called Lebret Indian Residential School. All of his children and grandchildren attended this institution as well. My Aunts and Uncles would say that “it wasn’t so bad”, and I am sure it was better than many of the other Indian Residential Schools that we have come to learn about over this past summer. However, the very fact that they were forced to attend demonstrates the unjust and genocidal practices of the Canadian government of the time.

Yes, I used the word genocidal and I meant it. Within three generations of my family, Indian Residential Schools had for the most part, the intended effect, which was to “remove the Indian from the child”. The trauma and cultural harm of not being allowed to speak our language or practice our traditional ceremonies continues to have a devastating impact to this day. My aunties, uncles, and cousins are now learning our language and speaking it at home. We are now seeking opportunities to learn about our unique worldview and are participating in ceremony to capture that essential part of our being.

I have come a long way to recover from the shame I once felt at being an Indian when I was growing up. I learned at a young age to be careful who I told about my identity. It was exhausting to explain the difference between First Nations and Métis. When I began to date, I always checked with a potential boyfriend’s views on First Nations people in Canada to avoid the inevitable discussions that would occur. “You don’t look like an Indian.” “Are you sure you’re not Métis?” “But you’re not those other Indians. Your dad has a job.”  “If you’re an Indian, why has your family done so well for themselves?” This was my reality and at time it was very painful.

My children are proud of their First Nation identity. They readily disclose this to their peers and as part of classroom discussions. They share what they know about their Mooshum attending Indian Residential School. They are fully present when their Aunts and Uncles share the stories. I am struck with how different this was from my experience with my peers at their age.

I recognize the privilege I have in knowing who my people are, and our family history. I can go back to Peepeekisis Cree First Nation and walk the land where my family lived. Most of them are buried in the cemetery on the reserve, even the two young great aunts who died while attending Residential School. It deeply pains me that over the past few months, I have met many Indigenous people in Halton that were part of the Sixties Scoop and are desperately seeking their birth families in an effort to come to terms with their Indigenous identity. I have met Indigenous people who were brought up with shame for being an Indian and told to hide this fact from the rest of the world. Stop and imagine if this was you or your family. What would the impact be for your family if you were missing an essential part of your personal story?

The Time is Now to Go Beyond Just Knowing the Truth

When Tk’kemlups te Scewepemc announced to Canada and the world that bodies were discovered in unmarked graves near the Kamloops Indian Residential School, it was shocking. However, to most Indigenous peoples, it was finally revealing what has been known to us and what survivors had been sharing all along. These children’s stories have been passed on to the next generation. We know that at least 3,213 children’s deaths at Indian Residential Schools were documented during the consultations with Indigenous Residential School Survivors held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What is shocking to me is that it seems that most Canadians did not know about these children. It is documented in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. In fact, Calls to Action #71 to #80 speaks to the missing children, unmarked graves, and residential school cemeteries. It is there for everyone to read. Will you take time on September 30th to read about it?

In the first of our two-part blog, Joanna Mathews, challenges all of us to go beyond knowing the Truth about Indigenous people and to deeply connect with that information to move towards Reconciliation. I could not agree more. The inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about commemorating and honouring real people, families, and communities who were treated reprehensibly by the Canadian government. Indian Residential School Survivors live among us. Take some time to seek out their stories and bear witness to our country’s history.

On September 30th wear your Orange Shirt and take a moment to really think about what it means to you, and to Indian Residential School Survivors. Learn more and do more so we can collectively make Canada a better place that truly includes Indigenous people and is based on mutual respect.

NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Lebret (Qu’Appelle) – NCTR

orangeshirtday.org

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – NCTR

If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.