When a residential school survivor got his chance to question the election candidates at a First Nations forum last week, he wanted to know one thing – would any of them be willing to acknowledge residential schools as genocide?
James Quatell, who was taken at the age of 10 from his family in Campbell River to a residential school in Alert Bay, said he hopes and prays the four federal candidates take the time to read through the entire, 360-plus page Truth and Reconciliation Report which details stories from residential school survivors and describes the abuse and neglect the children suffered from.
“All you’ve looked at is the cover, go inside the book and find out what it really says,” Quatell said. “Where does reconciliation start? Not with us, it starts on the other side, the other side of the table. There’s so much, really so much. I hope you’ll take more thought to really speaking about this Holocaust, this whole thing, this genocide that happened to those thousands of children.”
Peter Schwarzhoff, who is running locally for the Liberal Party, was the first to respond to Quatell during the all-candidates forum, hosted by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the Wei Wai Kum First Nation Sept. 22 at the Thunderbird Hall. Schwarzhoff admitted Quatell was right and the candidates only had the 94 recommendations coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation report. Schwarzhoff said the only way to move forward and begin the healing process is for the government to accept what happened to thousands of innocent First Nations children as truth.
“It starts by acknowledgment, it starts by trust. It’s easy for us to say we didn’t know it’s actually true (but) now we know and it can’t be unknown,” Schwarzhoff said. “These are realities, these things happened. We did try to beat the Indian out of the child and look what it’s done to us.”
One of the recommendations is to teach the history of residential schools in the public school system. Provinces are in the process of developing a curriculum and Schwarzhoff said the Liberal Party intends to consult First Nations and have those who actually lived it develop the education.
Laura Smith of the Conservative Party admitted she also had not read the entire Truth and Reconciliation report but said she read the recommendations coming out of the commission that travelled the country for six years listening to testimony from roughly 7,000 witnesses.
“I have read the recommendations and they’re very comprehensive. Some of them I think are no-brainers, (such as) teaching the truth. To me, that doesn’t even seem to be a question,” Smith said. “We’ve embraced the truth and we’re willing to move forward on that but obviously some of the recommendations have some very far reaching policy implications and would take a long time to implement and even come to a common understanding of what they mean.
“I agree with you, I think we need to move forward and reconciliation is a key part of that.”
The Green Party’s Brenda Sayers, a member of the Hupacasath First Nation, said she considers herself a survivor of residential schools.
“My mother was placed in a residential school when she was three-years-old because her father, my grandfather, was killed at an early age and left my grandmother having to go out to work picking strawberries to sustain the family,” Sayers said. “I consider myself a survivor of residential school because my mother wasn’t given any parenting skills to bring us up.”
Sayers said she could understand Quatell’s passion and frustration and said if elected, she will see to it that the 94 recommendations come to light.
She said she believes the process of reconciliation is already starting to gain momentum across the country.
“More and more people are becoming aware of our First Nations values, who we are, through movements like Idle No More, the exhibition of Walking With Our Sisters, those kind of things are bringing the truth to people and people need to know the truth in order for us to reconcile,” Sayers said.
The NDP’s Rachel Blaney said it’s important to bring non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people together in order to get that dialogue going.
She said that during a workshop in Campbell River a few years ago that brought both of those groups together, a survey revealed how little knowledge people had of residential schools.
“The reality is, we need to read that book, politicians need to understand that and all of Canada needs to understand that history,” Blaney said. “It’s time for us to move forward but we can only move forward if we’re all carrying the truth.”
To that end, Blaney said the NDP is promising within 100 days of the Oct. 19 election to set up an inquiry into all the murdered and missing indigenous women – a process which is included in the 94 recommendations laid out in the Truth and Reconciliation report.
Schwarzhoff said such an inquiry is also a high priority for the Liberal Party while Sayers said the Green Party is also asking for a full inquiry into the murdered and missing women.
She added the party also wants “to implement the findings of the truth and reconciliation, anything that is federally related, we want to implement them.”
QUESTIONS?…If you have a question you would like the candidates to address at the upcoming All Candidates Meeting, submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org
A selection will be put before the candidates at the forum on Thursday, Oct. 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tidemark Theatre.