SASKATOON — Delegates to the Saskatchewan Catholic School Board Association’s (SCSBA) annual conference and AGM spent the Nov. 4 - 6 weekend learning about the impact of residential schools on First Nations people, their children and grandchildren.
The conference theme, Healing Through the Living Gospel: Truth and Reconciliation in Catholic Education, featured speakers and a panel who spoke about hurt and the road to reconciliation.
Eugene Arcand was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Residential School Survivor Committee. He spoke about the 94 TRC recommendations, but spent more time describing his experience in residential school. He said he learned animal instincts when he was in school.
“I was a party animal; I loved to fight; I was a bad parent, but I have a good wife. I tried to forget with drugs and alcohol” — all behaviours learned in school. Things have improved somewhat, said Arcand, but he sees bad behaviour among young people in indigenous communities, “because they don’t know who they are.”
Reconciliation has no boundaries, said Arcand. “We’ve never done this before and we don’t know how to do it. It is a call to action for everyone, not just the government.”
Other speakers had similar themes about lack of identity.
Joanna Landry is First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education co-ordinator for the Regina Roman Catholic School Division. She described several support programs for indigenous students that the Regina Catholic School division has developed and maintained, especially since 2000.
Shane Henry and CeCe Baptiste, second- and third-generation descendants of parents and grandparents who attended residential schools, described their own experiences of taunts and abuse in school.
Henry, a researcher/writer for the Saskatoon Tribal Council, said he has a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church. “It is not compatible with my indigenous identity.” Reconciliation may be a bridge too far for some, said Henry. “Give First Nations some latitude to come to a good place. Genuine love is the order of the day, but conditions have to be right for that to happen.”
Baptiste is a financial analyst with the University of Saskatchewan’s Institutional Planning and Assessment Unit. She shared her experience as the only Aboriginal in her school and the abuse she experienced when she took grades nine and 10 on her reserve. “I had to take care of myself. I didn’t belong in the city and was too white for the reserve.”
George Lafond was Saskatchewan’s first indigenous treaty commissioner, from 2012 - 2016. He said there are five steps to reconciliation: spiritual, legal, economic, political and educational. “Indian kids need more to allow them to compete in the world,” arguing that equality with non-indigenous students is not enough.