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Cornell Pashe was saddened, but not surprised, to hear that a ground-penetrating survey had uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May.
"As Indigenous, we always knew that they existed," said Pashe, the Indigenous community co-ordinator for the Portage Urban Indigenous Peoples’ Coalition.
In his role, Pashe tackles issues that face urban Indigenous people in Portage la Prairie. He’s helped organize everything from vaccination clinics, to food hampers, to a community support fund over the past two years.
The finding of the 215 children has sparked national outrage and dialogue about Canada’s history of residential schools. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation hired a specialist to survey the grounds of the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Pashe believes there are more unmarked graves at former residential school sites. He said he hopes the federal government and First Nation groups collaborate to find the children.
It’s also important that Canadians are educated on Indigenous culture and Canada’s history, he said.
"It’s reconciliation," Pashe said. "It takes both sides … It’s about being neighbours."
The Portage Urban Indigenous Peoples’ Coalition hosted a virtual sharing circle last winter which involved five Indigenous and five non-Indigenous folks. The group covered the history of treaties and residential schools, reconciliation, and myths about Indigenous people.
"A lot of (non-Indigenous people) didn’t know what a treaty even was, and a lot of them didn’t know their history when it came to the Indigenous because it was never taught," Pashe said.
He called the experience an "eye-opener" for many involved, and he encourages people who want to learn about Indigenous culture and history to join a similar group. He recommends the website circlesforreconciliation.ca, which offers informational resources and a list of active and upcoming virtual sharing circles.
Jacinda Houle is Pashe’s assistant at the coalition. She’s also a Grade 12 student, and the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of residential school survivors.
Her grandparents don’t speak about their time in residential school. She’s never asked, out of respect. Everything she knows about the schools comes from her mother, the classroom, and her own research.
"I think it’s important, especially for non-Indigenous (people), to really understand … what our ancestors experienced," Houle said.
This requires education, she said.
"There’s a lot of racism in the community, which sucks," she said. "I feel like maybe if (non-Indigenous people) understood what we go through, and what our ancestors went through, we wouldn’t face so much discrimination."
Houle recommends a free course by the University of Alberta called Indigenous Canada. It’s online at Coursera; through it, folks can take 12 lessons on Indigenous issues from an Indigenous perspective.
The Assembly of First Nations and Orange Shirt Day also have great educational websites, Houle said. The movies We Were Children and Where the Spirit Lives are hard-hitting pieces on residential schools. Finally, Houle said she’d recommend The Secret Path by Gord Downie — it’s a music album that’s been made into a graphic novel and an animated film on YouTube.
Headingley Municipal Library has created displays to promote Indigenous literature. Putting the novels up front might encourage folks to read them more, according to head librarian Alison Au.
"In Headingley, you kind of cross over that bridge and everybody’s in their own bubble," she said.
People often stick to writers they know, she said.
"One of the best ways to learn and be an ally for marginalized people is to try to understand their stories."
Au’s go-to books include The Orenda by Joseph Boyden and Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine by Joanna Jolly.
A spokesperson from the Portage la Prairie Bear Clan said folks can show their support for Indigenous groups by donating to ground-penetrating scans of Canadian residential school sites, and by wearing orange ribbons.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
Books by Indigenous authors
David Robertson, an Indigenous author in Winnipeg, created a list of books for people who wish to learn more about Indigenous culture and Canadian history. Folks can learn more about Robertson on social media, @DaveAlexRoberts, or on his website.
Books for youth by Indigenous authors
Recommendations from Indigenous author David Robertson.
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