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The Scourge on Indigenous Communities | Panels with Mary Thomas

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Every month, LCCMedia holds a panel about burning societal issues. This month the issue was the scourge on Indigenous communities.

Mary Thomas our moderator, is a communications professional, nutritionist, English tutor, journalist and community advocate experienced in leading social profit organizations, TV talk show host, artist,  mentor for internationally educated professionals, communication skills trainer and certified Color Spectrums facilitator. Since 2019, Mary has hosted panels for LCCMedia.

This month,  the panel focused on the discovery of the remains of 215 children found buried near residential school in Kamloops in British Columbia. The discovery cemented what many people had known all their lives. Children as young as three were buried on the school grounds in unmarked graves. The Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of the largest residential schools in Canada and it operated from the late 19th century to the late 1970s. It was opened and run by the Catholic Church until the Federal Government took it over in the late 1960s.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 4,000 children died while at residential schools over a period of several decades.

Barely a week ago, an indigenous nation in Canada says it has found 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan. The Cowessess  First Nation said the discovery was the most significantly substantial to date in Canada. The graves were unmarked. The Marieval Indian Residential School was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to 1997 in the areas where Cowessess is now located in southeastern Saskatchewan. Between 1863 and 1998 more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools.

An estimated 6,000 children died whilst attending these schools, due in large part to the squalid conditions inside. Students were often housed in poorly built, poorly heated and unsanitary facilities. In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system. The Roman Catholic Church which was responsible for the operations of up to 70 percent of residential schools has not yet issued a formal apology.

The panelists were Flora Northwest, a Samson Cree Nation Elder who belongs to the Maskwacis community. She is also a residential school survivor.  Shawna J Serniak is an Indigenous International Speaker, Founder of Every Woman Empowered, YouTube Personality and Host of Chick Chit Chat and Founder of Project Change MMIW and the charity Every Woman Empowered Endowment Fund. Shawna was recognized by Alberta’s Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women for her community leadership and acts of service. Chelsea Vowel is a professor at the University of Alberta and Dan Johnstone is a Canadian anti-poverty and social activist and community organizer. He is also know as Can Man Dan. He is running for City Council on October 18th 2021.

When Elder Northwest spoke about being taken to residential school at six years old. We all listened with rapt attention. As she spoke about her hair being cut, her learning the English language and the horrific conditions at the residential school she attended, my heart broke and I cried. They were told that they could not speak in their language. “The more they cried, the more they were strapped.” They were taught not to cry. They were taught to tolerate the pain.” The intent was to kill the Indian in every child. Elder Northwest reckons that probably from the time she was deloused – she did not recollect having lice in her hair- to the time they were drilled in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Religion that they were slaves.

“It was horrible. As a little girl, I had to learn to listen, not speak. I had to make sure when I got up in the morning, I had to make my bed military style. Otherwise, they would rip the beds apart and you would have to start again.” “The food that we ate were probably clear fluids anyways”. The bit she said about children having to eat their own puke made me sick to my stomach.

National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419.



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