Truth, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Moving Beyond Event, by Hazel Jardine
Hazel is a founding member of the Fort Qu’Appelle, SK KAIROS group, which has been going strong for over 25 years. She is an author, mother and activist and is now an elder in the KAIROS community. Fort Qu’Appelle has a long Indigenous, Métis and settler history, and the community has many reserves close by. The village of Lebret is a few minutes down the beautiful valley, and it hosted a large Roman Catholic residential school for decades.
I am so delighted to have been in attendance on Dec 1 2011 at the Truth, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Moving Beyond Event at the Lebret Indian Residential School Commemoration. It was held in Whitecalf Gymnasium on the former Indian Residential School grounds, starting with an 8 a.m. pipe ceremony and a breakfast provided by Betty Lou Skogen and the folks from Wanakapew Church and Sue Bland (Sask Justice and Right Relations Home Group). The latter group includes Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people from many paths and is sponsored by the United Church. Kairos was represented by 8 local members from the Fort Qu’Appelle group.
Later in the day, Deb Laforet did a beautiful job representing the United Church by making a statement of apology and reconciliation. All United Church members and Kairos were very much part of this presentation. It was followed by a presentation of the Star Blanket Community Elder’s Book. Statements were also presented by First Nations Elders, Métis and Government representatives. Under the guidance of Noel Starblanket, Chief Michael Starr, councilor Sheldon Poitras, Wahpiimoostoosis Healing Lodge Director Joanne Starr, Researcher Ariane Stablanket and Event Coordinator Juliano Tupone the nine hours I was able to attend sped by and I wouldn’t have missed a moment.
I understand that Winston Wuttunee was a hilarious entertainer to close the meeting. I wish now I could have stayed but I had to leave. Thanks to all of these people for a great experience in an outstandingly decorated room including huge dream catchers hanging above and so many centre pieces cleverly made with teepees enclosing lights.
For those of us who were unable to attend the morning but arrived for the noon meal, we were greeted so warmly especially by young people who had been released from school to provide hospitality. I found them all delightful and to our surprise, we were served lunch first as “elders” and also again at the Banquet at 6 p.m. What a meal it was!!
A formal memorial list of deceased residential school survivors was circulated. A power point tribute to the late Irvin G. Starblanket by his family brought tears to many eyes. Always there was respect and support in those emotional moments.
Throughout the day people offered statements of disclosure and loss because of the evil and mistaken policies by church and state that forced children into residential schools. It was acknowledged that there was some good and some kindness but still and above all the pain and mistaken policies. All of us present were enlightened, moved and honoured to hear the painful stories and the subsequent effects on generations of people.
I was particularly troubled to hear the story of five year olds pulled away from parents and then not seeing them until the following Christmas. These children were put on a train without parents expecting them, and then were put off the train to walk 12 miles to find their parents on the reserve. I recalled when I was five losing sight of my mother in a Calgary department store and being devastated until I was found. At eighty years of age, I still recall those feelings of abandonment clearly. It is hard to believe that there is so little understanding of why stories of such abuse still need to be told.
A drum group performed Honour and Memorial Songs, stories were recorded and decisions of forgiveness were signed by many – and as a sign of moving on were burned in an outdoor bonfire. Ashes were saved for use at a future event. The nine hours I was present sped by. At no point did I feel uncomfortable and I felt so welcomed. It was one of the happiest events since coming to Fort Qu’Appelle forty years ago. Hopefully, the door has been opened for more non-Aboriginal participation as we move beyond. Kairos and myself will be there.