Sask. residential school survivor says awareness is growing one year after Kamloops discovery
As more unmarked graves are discovered near the sites of former residential schools, survivors say validation and awareness are two key outcomes from the findings.
One year ago, officials announced the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site in B.C.
The findings kicked off a series of similar discoveries near school grounds across the country, including in Saskatchewan.
Del Crowe attended residential school in Lebret from 1963 to 1968. He said the Kamloops discovery validated his experiences.
“Some children we never saw them again. They just disappeared,” Crowe said. “They wouldn’t tell us what’s going on at the school. We were as much in the dark as anybody.”
Crowe went to residential school from Grade 1 to Grade 5. He compared his time there to what took place in concentration camps during World War II.
He remembers the nuns and priests being mean to the students. However, he said he does not recall details about most of the “horrible stories.”
“There is stuff that you just block out of your memory that you don’t want to remember,” he said.
The pope issued an apology earlier this year, and is now planning a trip to Canada to visit First Nations communities. The itinerary does not include Saskatchewan or B.C.
Crowe was not satisfied with the Pope’s initial apology, calling it a “political move.”
Instead, Crowe said the biggest development that came from the Kamloops discovery is awareness.
“Finally people are becoming aware of this. These are things that I’ve been aware of my whole life. I saw a lot when I was going to my school and I’ve heard many stories from older people and my fellow classmates,” Crowe said.
“We’re hearing more stories so maybe in the future something will happen.”
Lori Campbell, associate vice-president for Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina, said a broader awareness to what happened at residential schools is necessary to move forward.
“We need to keep it in public memory and keep these conversations going in order to move toward reconciliation,” she said.
“It’s hard to move on and heal and move towards reconciliation until we really understand what happened.”
Campbell said this is just the beginning stage of work that will take years as First Nations continue to search for graves and look to identify the remains.
“This is going to be a very, very long process,” she said.
She encourages people to not become desensitized to the discoveries of unmarked graves.
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