Let residential school survivors share their stories

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – The Catholic groups that ran the schools, if they have any sense of shame or any concern for the project of reconciliation, should immediately heed the call of Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and grant permission to Shisheesh, and all those in a similar position, to tell their stories.
Jan. 17, 2018.   By

Angela Shisheesh, a survivor of the infamous St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., would like her harrowing story of abuse to be part of the historical record, accessible to the public like those of many of her fellow victims. Yet because she, like so many others, settled her legal case before 2006, it is up the organizations responsible for her maltreatment to determine whether her testimony can be made public.

The Catholic groups that ran the schools, if they have any sense of shame or any concern for the project of reconciliation, should immediately heed the call of Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and grant permission to Shisheesh, and all those in a similar position, to tell their stories.

When the Indian Residential Schools Agreement was signed in 2006, settling class action lawsuits against the federal government and the churches that ran the schools, survivors were awarded more than just money.

The deal also created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to hear from victims, and the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, to safeguard their stories. As the commissioners later wrote in the TRC’s final report, the voices of survivors had until that point been largely absent from the historical record. The commission and the centre were founded to honour their experiences and preserve their accounts for future generations, truth being a prerequisite for reconciliation.

Yet Shisheesh and many others who settled their cases before that agreement was struck are still fighting to place their testimony and other records, which remain privileged, with the centre. In December, Justin Trudeau said the federal government would waive its privilege, but despite the pleas of survivors, the Catholic entities involved have yet to follow suit. Earlier this week, Minister Bennett released a letter to 50 Catholic groups calling on them, too, to grant permission to make the documents public.

The Oblate Ministries, which ran the St. Anne’s Residential School, notorious for its particularly brutal disciplinary techniques, say they are waiting for Shisheesh to reach out. A representative told the Globe and Mail this week that he is “open to hearing her story and certainly [to] responding to it.” But Shisheesh understandably does not feel she should be made to plead her case.

Clearly the story should be hers to tell. To deny her and other victims a voice amounts to a sort of cultural erasure, an important aspect of the residential schools’ terrible impact. The Oblate Ministries and other Catholic organizations should give their permission now, lest it seem they’ve learned nothing.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2018/01/17/let-residential-school-survivors-share-their-stories.html

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