Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MP weeps remembering residential school life

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MONTREAL -- A member of Parliament tearfully testified during a truth and reconciliation hearing about the damage he suffered in an Indian residential school.

New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash cried Friday as he described the death of his brother Johnny, whom he never met.

He said his family still doesn't have a death certificate or know what really happened.

The MP was separated from his family and sent to a residential school in the Quebec town of La Tuque.

He said he wasn't even allowed to return home for his father's funeral.

Saganash told the audience at the Montreal hearings of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission he might look like a normal person but isn't.

"I can never be normal," said Saganash, who for the first few years of his life spoke Cree and lived in nature.

"And none, none of those kids who were sent to residential schools can claim to be normal today. It's impossible."

Like several others who spoke at the hearing, Saganash said injustices to aboriginal peoples did not stop with the closing of residential schools.

"There are still racist policies against aboriginals," said Saganash, who referred to the federal Indian Act.

"Even when we get a victory before the courts, the government continues to fight against our fundamental rights."

Former prime minister Paul Martin and ex-auditor general Sheila Fraser also appeared Friday and spoke of the brutal living conditions and unacceptable level of services in aboriginal communities.

The residential school system existed from the 1870s until the 1990s and saw about 150,000 native youth taken from their families and sent to church-run schools under a deliberate policy of "civilizing" First Nations.

Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused.

Some committed suicide or died fleeing their schools. Mortality rates reached 50 per cent at some schools.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A23

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