Stories of residential school impacts experienced by Indigenous Women
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was formed 12 years ago, the Calls for Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released a year ago, and this Indigenous Women’s Month at KAIROS we join our voices with others in calling on the Canadian government to address the systemic and foundational intersections that inspire me to highlight these anniversaries conjointly.
Around the world we grapple with the curve, separation from loved ones, and new ways of living. The need for action remains the same and this week at KAIROS we shine a light on how the residential school legacy impacts women and the intergenerational fight to keep Indigenous women and girls safe.
I was aware of the residential school legacy but only truly began unravelling what that meant for people in 2008. Everyone was talking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and without a discussion of history in my family, I was oblivious to the impacts which I carried and passed on to my children.
One of the earliest teachings I had about the residential school system was how the system truly benefitted settler Canadians, tailored to meet the needs of those working and belonging to the ‘mainstream’.
One Grandmother shared her journey through residential school and that it didn’t end when she finished her studies. Decidedly trusted and helpful, she was sent to live and work as an unpaid, live-in maid for the local minister and his family. Without options to leave or choose other work, she remained working in their home for several years doing housework and managing childcare. Finally, after careful petitioning she was granted permission to marry a husband and leave her post.
Another woman shared that she had never attended residential school, but all her other siblings had been removed and her parents had only been told, without proof, that their six older children had died. Resolved to protect their youngest, they moved deep into the bush to shelter what remained of their family on the land. Grown into adulthood and expecting her first child, she began to question her choice to deliver in the local hospital when her health care team attempted to manipulate her into having an abortion and agree to medical sterilization. Each prenatal visit targeted her intellectual capacity, her youthful appearance, and the cleanliness of her home. It would be many years later before the headlines around reproductive injustices would emerge but I was reminded of that woman who had delivered a freedom baby, to counter the government’s interference with her child, like the action taken by her parents to protect her years before.
These are but two small offerings of stories that must be learned from to address the harms of the past, for the sake of a just future.
For this Indigenous Women’s Month reflection, my final thoughts to share involve my great Grandmother Rose. Though we never met, I am proud of the efforts she made to teach her children to speak their ancestral language. I am told that I inherited her stature and this knowledge alone helps me to walk a little taller.
Chrystal Waban offers wishes for safety and connection during this important time of reflection. Visit the Indigenous Rights page at kairoscanada.org to learn more about the work being done to raise up the stories of Residential School survivors and carry out public education in spirited dedication to reconciliation.