More than 150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families in Canada and brought to residential schools between 1830 and 1996, when the law was rescinded.
However, “It is important to remember and not blame or be angry. We want good relationships, understanding and mutual respect,” said Cecelia Reekie, in her address to students at Parkside Elementary school last week. Reekie’s father was one of those children taken from his family.
School aboriginal support worker Linsey Ernst told the students that her mother Nettie was also taken from her family from ages seven to 17, and taken to the residential school in Kamloops aboard a cattle truck. Despite the trauma she endured, Nettie raised her three children to achieve their best potentials, just as she and her husband had.
“We encouraged all our three kids to find their roots and dig into the past,” Nettie told the students.
The assembly closed with Linsey and the Redhawk Drummers singing “You are my Sunshine” as the students respectfully got up and returned to their classrooms.
KURT LANGMANN PHOTO – Cecelia Reekie (at left) joined the Ernst family and Redhawk Drummers in singing “You are my Sunshine” at the Parkside Elementary Orange Shirts Day.
Youth issued challenge on Orange Shirt Day
By MONIQUE TAMMINGA
“I believe it will be you, the youth, who will be the change in what is thought of Indigenous people. It will be you who can build those positive relationships,” Aboriginal cultural presenter Cecilia Reekie told the 1,930 students at Walnut Grove Secondary on Orange Shirt Day on Thursday morning.
She shared the same message with students at Aldergrove’s Parkside Elementary later that afternoon.
Reekie is a former Langley school trustee who decided not to run again for office, and instead work to bring awareness and spread the truth about Indian residential schools and the harm they caused and continue to cause. She has spoken at nearly every school in Langley and several in Surrey and Delta, as well as to Rotary clubs and PACs. She also hosted an all day event in February, sharing the truths of Indian residential schools.
“My dad was 10 when he was taken,” Reekie told the students. “He didn’t know how to speak a word of English. On the second day, he got caught speaking his language and he was brought into the gymnasium of the school and given the strap.
“In his own language, he told the other boys getting the strap not to cry and stay strong. He was given 10 more straps for that.” Her father, now 85, lived in the residential school for four years. He suffered abuse, but survived when many did not.
In Canada 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and communities and placed in residential schools. Six thousand of those children died there. Today there are 80,000 survivors still alive to share their stories, as many have during the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that started in 2008.
“You may hear, ‘Why can’t they just get over it and move on,’” said Reekie to the youth. “The last residential school to close was in 1996. That isn’t that long ago. We aren’t going to move on, but we are trying to get at the truth because we can’t move forward until we know all the truths of what happened there.”
In 2008, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and apologized on behalf of all of Canada for the residential schools, recognizing that “the objective of schools was to assimilate.”
Orange Shirt Day “Every Child Matters” started because of residential school survivor Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, who at six-years-old, wore her new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, to her first day of school. That shirt was taken from her on her first day, never to be seen again. Phyllis, like so many others, was given a uniform, and a haircut in an attempt to erase her identity.
“I challenge you next year to come wearing your orange shirt on Sept. 30, now that you know about why there is such a day. Wearing an orange shirt shows you care and we can find a new way to walk through this together,” said Reekie.