Truth and Reconciliation brings Aboriginal awareness to TRU

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Truth, healing and responsibility were the themes of the Truth and Reconciliation event held at TRU on Wednesday Sept. 18. Around 100 people gathered in the Irving K. Barber Centre to hear the testimonials of those both directly and indirectly affected by the Indian residential schools in Canada.

Jimmy Jack, TRU Elder and residential school survivor, shared his experiences with a crowd of 70 during TRU's Truth and Reconciliation event. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Jimmy Jack, TRU Elder and residential school survivor, shared his experiences with a crowd of 70 during TRU’s Truth and Reconciliation event. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

“I’m very proud that this event is happening at our university,” said TRU president Alan Shaver. “It’s very important.”

Organizer and TRU graduate Bernard Gilbert said the event’s goal was to bring awareness, not only to non-Aboriginals but also to those who are still in denial about what went on in the schools.

First Nations children were separated from their families and forced to attend government-funded church-run schools for more than 100 years, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) website.

“Seven generations of children went through the residential schools, … they were told that their lives were not as good as the lives of the non-aboriginal people of this country, they were told that their languages and cultures were irrelevant,” said Murray Sinclair, TRC chair, in a video on the commission’s website.

Earlier this year, the TRC revealed research saying that at least 3,000 students had died in the schools, and many more are still affected by abuse they endured during the time they spent there.

“It’s unfair to us, to you, to all Canadian people to not know what happened,” said Alexa Manuel, event MC and TRU graduate. “It doesn’t benefit anyone to keep it a secret.”

TRU Aboriginal student Justin Young, TRU faculty member Patrick Walton and TRU Elder Jimmy Jack shared stories about the past, present and future consequences of the schools.

Young is Anishinabe and came to Kamloops from Bloodvein, Man. In 2010 he walked from Kamloops to Bloodvein on a journey he called “The Walk of Healing” which represented the healing of his past: a life of foster-homes, drugs and alcohol. His story, told with an eagle feather in his hand, prompted tears from himself and the audience.

Young has been successful at TRU, but Walton explained that some of the consequences of the residential schools are very apparent in education. He said the drop out rate for Aboriginal students is 50 per cent at TRU.

“It’s important that the university not get complacent,” Walton said. “We still have work to do.”

TRU Elder Jimmy Jack is a survivor of the residential schools. He shared his strength in learning his culture despite the effort of Europeans to assimilate the Aboriginal Peoples.

Jack said there was an effort within the schools to separate Aboriginal children and keep them from speaking their language because, individually, they were easier to control. But he shared a strong belief for educating the young, as he was, to keep Aboriginal culture alive.

“We are survivors,” he said. “We will keep surviving no matter what the government puts on us.”

The event, organized by the Aboriginal education department, coincided with the TRC’s Truth and Reconciliation week in B.C.

The TRU Art Gallery also hosted the Reconsidering Reconciliation art show throughout the week. An exercise in which anyone could share their thoughts about residential school reconciliation through written words or artistic expression on “blankets” was also hosted throughout the day on Sept. 18.