Residential School Victims and Survivors Receive Tribute



A small gathering was held on October 18 to honor the lives of students who died at the former Elkhorn boarding school.

Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. Grand Chief Garrison Settee traveled with Elders to hold a ceremony at a small grave where the children of Elkhorn Residential School are buried. The ceremony included music, prayers, a sacred fire, offerings and a feast.

The ceremony was inspired by the memory of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Elder Doris Pratt, said Rebecca Ross, retired educator from Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake).

Pratt asked Ross to bring a message to MKO and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs requesting a ceremony and feast at the old residential school to honor the children buried at the site and at the Brandon Indian Residential School.

“I persisted in doing it,” Ross said. “Doris wanted to do this. She gave me this message in the summer of 2018, and now only the stories of these burial sites have surfaced in May 2021. ”

The late Elder told Ross, “There are children from northern Manitoba who are buried in the old Elkhorn residential school, and most of those children are from northern Manitoba.

Pratt, who died at the age of 83 on March 6, 2019, also expressed that “these children were my friends and protectors.”

After receiving his call to action from Pratt, Ross began researching residential schools and found lists of deceased children in Elkhorn and Brandon. She added that sometimes the records did not show age, date of birth or date of death. She also found that the community a child came from and the cause of death were also often unknown.

“For some of them, there wasn’t even a record. There was poor record keeping on the part of the people, the churches, who ran these residential schools, ”Ross said. “It’s just hiding the truth.”

Ross said she believed Pratt knew how horrific the residential school legacy was in Canada and that it was a piece of history that needed to be recognized.

Ross said the stories of residential school survivors have been shared for years and that for many decades their experiences have been ignored.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation website says 26 students died at Elkhorn Residential School. The site presents anonymous crosses erected in memory of deceased children.

The Elkhorn Residential School, known as Washakada Home for Girls and Kasota Home for Boys, was established in the village of Elkhorn in 1888. It was closed in 1918 but reopened in 1923, under the administration of the Society. missionary of the Anglican Church.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation website said the school was finally closed in 1949 after leaders of The Pas Indian Band filed a number of complaints about the students’ living conditions.

The tomb where the MKO ceremony took place houses a monument installed in July 1990 by former school staff and students. In part, the monument reads: “In this consecrated land lie the remains of several children who died while attending the Elkhorn Indian Residential Schools. ”

Ross said more needs to be done to address the damaging legacy of residential schools. She wants educational institutions to initiate in-depth discussions about residential schools, as institutions often take in students whose family members are survivors.

“The stories, the history, the truth should be taught in schools wherever it is appropriate,” Ross said.

Residential schools are an important part of Canadian history that must be documented, recognized and remembered, she said, adding that there were 19 schools in Manitoba alone.

Ross said Pratt’s work to preserve the Dakota language is also inspiring, as residential schools served to deprive children of culture and language.

As part of the healing process, she would like schools to be fully funded to teach Indigenous languages ​​and train teachers to help preserve them. There is a need to ensure that those who pass the language on to the younger generations not only speak the language, but are also qualified to serve as teachers.

This is an important step because language cannot be separated from culture, Ross said.

Part of solving these problems in schools is preserving and sharing the stories of survivors.

“Right now there aren’t many seniors, residential school survivors, but those who have lived through [the schools] have stories. They should be visited and their stories should be recorded, ”Ross said.

Remembering the children who died in residential schools is essential, she said, adding that each of them should be honored, especially because they most likely suffered during their time in institutions.

Ross, his parents, and eight siblings attended residential school. She also had aunts and uncles who were taken to the facilities.

Schools took them away from their families and their culture, and they had no chance to return home.

“Many of these residential school survivors have spent 10 to 15 years away from home at the residential school. Some of them were taken very early, maybe four or six, ”Ross said.

It is a heartbreaking experience to know that children have been taken from their families and culture to attend residential school, Ross said.

She hopes that the chorus of Canadians recognizing the traumatic legacy of the residential school system that has resonated across the country since the discovery of anonymous graves in the former Kamloops residential school will continue.

“I want the recognition to stay. I want that wherever residential schools have been built in First Nations communities, they should have ceremonies and parties to honor the children buried on their sites, ”said Ross. “Every boarding school should be searched and every boarding school should have a monument in honor of the children who are buried there. ”


»Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp


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