Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reconciliation starts with an open mind

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About a year ago my uncle and I were sitting in his lawyers' high-rise office on Broadway, with a view of the Golden Boy.

My uncle asked me to go and sit with him while he made statements for his residential school abuse claim. There would be several meetings, he told me, and he knew it was going to be a tough thing to do but he said he'd feel better with me there.

My uncle is one of the residential school children who have a severe abuse claim, separate from the general claims that all survivors can apply for.

His lawyer was a nice woman who got us comfortable and brewed some green tea. She explained how she would document my uncle's experiences of abuse. She said she was honoured to be part of helping tell my uncle's story.

So, that afternoon, my uncle began telling his story in great detail as the lawyer typed out every word. I thought I was prepared to hear his story, since I'd heard other people's stories of what they'd gone through -- some of them kept me up at night, they were so grim.

But I wasn't prepared. They were things you'd never want to hear happening to any child.

That was the first of three meetings with the lawyer. It left us both drained, I think. I had a headache from the stress of it and woke up the next day feeling like someone had stomped up and down my body.

I've always been a step away from what happened at residential schools. But to hear my uncle's memories made a big impact. Over the last year, I've given it a lot of thought.

It seems many of the sins perpetrated against those children over the hundred years of residential schools became the norm; the abuse they survived was sometimes passed on to each other while they were still in school and sometimes down generations like some horrific family anti-heirloom.

Being part of those afternoons with my uncle made me understand with a rare clarity what he'd been through as a kid. It also made me realize why he'd made the choices he did when he was young, and how it affects a branch of our family even today.

It was important for my uncle to tell his story. His secrets were no longer secrets. They are his truth.

They say the truth can set you free, and I think it can if you share it with others, let go of the shame, forgive yourself and those who trespassed against you. Let yourself heal.

From June 16 to 19, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) will be holding its first national event down at The Forks. Former residential school students, teachers and other staff are welcome to come and share their stories with the commission.

This was a hidden part of Canadian history that needs to be uncovered as much as possible.

There will be many stories to tell, some painful and even some good ones. These stories are all important and need to be told before we lose that part of our past that has affected all of us so deeply.

There will be many uplifting activities open to the public throughout the day and in the evening -- a powwow, a play by Ian Ross and a concert featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie, Blue Rodeo and Susan Aglukark.

These events aren't just for aboriginal people; everyone is welcome to come out.

Reconciliation starts with an open mind, and it isn't just for people who were part of the residential school experience.

If you know nothing at all about residential schools it's even more important for you to check out some of the events at The Forks. Maybe then you can learn about this little known part of Canadian history for yourself.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2010 A16

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