Walkers aim to raise awareness about residential schools

STU native students Melissa Samson, Ronny Stephens, Tony Peter-Paul and their friend say a walk halfway across Canada will help raise awareness about residential schools. (Jordan MacDonald/AQ)

A group of people are walking halfway across Canadato make sure the country doesn’t forget about residential schools.

Patrick Etherington, part of the Walkers for Truth and Reconciliation, recently made it to Burnt Church First Nation as part of his walk from Cochrane, Ont. to Halifax.

For more than 100 years, native students were taken away from their families and culture and sent to government-run schools where abuse was rampant.

A few years ago, the federal government apologized for the abuse and has offered a settlement package to former students of residential schools.

The abuse continues to have an impact on First Nations peoples and Etherington says he wants to make non-natives aware of what happened.

He hopes that the attention gained from walking across Canada will lead to more people studying the history of residential schools.

“Society right now is moving in a direction that things are happening that doesn’t [where we don’t] spend too much time on certain things and one of them is the impact of residential school,” said Etherington. “’We can give them money and maybe they can get over it.’”

Ronny Stephens, a 29-year-old student from Cape Breton, thinks that the Walkers for Truth and Reconciliation could be a great motivatorion.

“Especially…to get the young ones to raise awareness and know what our older ones, our fathers, our grandfathers, our uncles, the struggles that they had to go through and the abuse that they had to go through.”

Tony Peter-Paul, a third-year journalism student from Pavineau Pabineau First Nation, it could also raise awareness on what aboriginal people are going through today.

“People wonder and complain why aboriginal communities are having such a hard time. With drugs and alcohol and stuff, it all goes back to the residential schools,” said Peter-Paul. “Pretty much all issues that aboriginals have today relates back to residential schools.”

Etherington agrees that residential schools are the root cause for almost every problem that‘s facing aboriginals face today.

Many people have a hard time coming to terms with the abuse and the scarring can be both physical and emotional, Stephens added.

“You [still] see the older ones, uncles, our aunts, even the elder folks, they have a hard time opening up to it. And when they do open up to it, they get really emotional. You know?

“They have a hard time, they don’t want to relive the fact that they were raped and abused on a daily basis.”

Melissa Samson, a fourth-year student from Elisipogpog First Nation, believes that although the effects are still lingering, First Nations still tend to avoid confronting these issues.

“We just hide it. It’s not something that you’ll address, it’s not proper for a First Nations [person] to bring up the topic and talk about it.”

But Peter-Paul says once First Nations people start talking about it, everyone else will begin to understand.

“It’s good for people to know so they understand why there’s so many issues and it’s good to bring it up so, that people can understand what these problems are that First Nations are having…instead of letting everything grow as it is.

“They can take a stand. Kind of like a wake-up call.”

The last residential school was closed in 1996.The wounds are still raw from the last generation of children who went there, Etherington said.

“[The important thing] is how does the issue of residential schools begin to expand to our next generation and our young people that are going to explore or ask more direct questions about their involvement in the effect of them.”

Samson saysalthough people should move forward from the residential schools, they were still an important part of Canadian history.

“There was only one intention of the residential schools: to get rid of the culture,” she said. “A genocide of a nation.”

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