Residential school survivors recognized

Published on March 31, 2014

It has been 47 years since the residential school in Shubenacadie closed, but it is still remembered today among the survivors who attended.

Monday in Pictou Landing, they were honoured for their fight.

In April, the Pictou Landing Indian Residential School Survivor Group is receiving a monument, shaped to resemble an Indian drum, to commemorate their legacy among the First Nations people in Nova Scotia.

Chief Andrea Paul said Pictou Landing was successful in their application for the grant for the marker and the project is in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

“The purpose of the marker is to honour and celebrate our survivors across Canada, and Pictou Landing is receiving this marker on behalf of all the survivors for Nova Scotia and I wanted to say thank you to the Pictou Landing Indian Residential School Survivor Group for, one, putting in the application and, two, for hosting this event today.”

She said the monument is also a container-like object where survivors can put in stories, photographs, or anything that is meaningful to them and reflects their experience in the residential schools.

The monument is not here yet, but the group hopes to hold another event when the monument comes so everybody can see it, she said.  

She is very pleased with the Indian Residential School Survivors, she said.

“They really came together in the past few years. They have taken a really good lead, they have become leaders in the community and in Nova Scotia, they have organized themselves as a society, they do a lot of education in the community, and they have done numerous events to honour the survivors.”

Unfortunately, they have lost a few survivors over the years, including her father, she said.

“I know my father was a survivor, unfortunately he never spoke about his experience, so we never got to hear his story, he passed away before they could get to that next stage of the process of the resolutions. And so his story went with him.”

She said his close friends knew his story and discussed it with her.

“If he shared that with his close friends, that’s whom he felt most comfortable with and I have to accept that and honour that.

Speaker Alan Hatfield said the Shubenacadie Residential School was run by church authorities in order to assimilate First Nations children. The school operated from 1923 to 1967.

“There is no euphemism we can use whatsoever here, except to say what always was and will be Canada’s darkest shame to the first peoples of this country, the aboriginals.”

He said in past couple of years, the world has been experiencing a global shift in collective consciousness and mankind is progressing forward.

“The time is now that we the world will see the aboriginal spirit rise up with pride and dignity and return to their language, culture, traditions, and music.”

Mary Hatfield, wife of Alan Hatfield and residential school survivor, said this monument is going to make a huge impact, not just on the survivors, but on their descendants.

She said it will do this because many descendants don’t know much about their parents’ or grandparents’ time in residential schools.

“So with this monument, they can put in their feelings, thoughts, even poems, how to express themselves. And even they can do drawings for that matter. Native people are pretty visual, so if they can’t read or write, they can draw.”

Andrea Paul agrees that this is a great way to continue to honour our survivors and educate our young ones.

She said hearing the stories is difficult for her from not knowing her father’s whole story. 

“When my father passed, I felt like I had not closure, because there was a big part of him that I didn’t know who he was. And for me for this monument, if we’re able to have another event, because of the shape of it, it allows survivors, it allows descendants, it will allow community members to come kind of pay tribute. For me, it would be a chance for me to write a letter to my father and to place it in that. And it will give me that closure.”

She thinks it will allow a lot of healing to happen, she said.

“With the terrific work of the IRSS group in Pictou Landing, it helps others learn about residential schools.

“It’s allowing people to speak about it.”