Friends, one of the main lessons my late-grandfather, Peter Mountain, Sr. taught me is that you have to ‘go far, esiah, grandson, to find anything of use to you at home’.
At his age, well over 90, his generation has a way that means much more than the simple words themselves.
The meaning, too, only becomes clear as you grow in years.
One way I’ve learned to appreciate this former time is simply in coming upon things to make these lessons come true. On a school reading week break from my Indigenous PhD studies I came across – Residential Schools – part of the Righting Canada’s Wrongs Series, by Toronto’s Melanie Florence.
Historically, these readings bring us back to the time of Confederation, when the Canadian nation/state was supposedly born.
Government programs like the residential schools were part of a deliberate attempt at cultural genocide. Partnered with the notoriously racist Indian Act the idea was to take Indigenous children away from the home, thus cutting all ties to family and culture.
One cannot escape the fact that this nation’s birthright also includes severing 150,000 Indigenous children from their roots, now for almost a century and a half.
To belittle these facts, as many do, is to also ignore your civic responsibility, period.
The pictorial book also invites one to watch a related video.
The text serves as learning process, taking us back to the days of the treaties and on to this nation’s efforts at assimilation, making good Canadians of every brown child.
The claim too, was that Indigenous cultures, although having survived for an arguable 30,000 years on these lands, were somehow “uncivilized”, and needing for some betterment.
Having had some twelve years of firsthand experience and a lifetime of hurt to go with it, I’ve lived these pages, in the truest sense of the word.
In over a decade of work with our Northern communities I’ve also experienced some of the healing to be done.
One instance happened at Tulita, in the very heart of Denendeh.
Right at the moment of the Canadian Government’s official apology for the residential school I was about to address a group there.
Rather than go through a formal process we decided to just watch the proceedings on TV and take it from there.
We went around the table, in our Dene language, telling about each of our experience in these places of cultural torture.
When it came to elder Maurice Mendo he told a much different story, that of growing up on the land, with very few of the Mola, white people, ever around.
As it turned out, the life he was describing is very much what we need to go back to, an education taken right from the land and our culture.
This book, Residential schools; The Devastating Impact on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and the Truth alongside the Reconciliation Commission’s Findings and Call for Action, contain the information we need, like a roadmap back to life.
Mahsi, thank you.