Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rainfall adds to sadness of old memories

Governor General arrives today

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Rain made the already sombre residential schools gathering downright miserable Friday, but the sun and the Governor General arrive today.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean will spend most of Saturday afternoon at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's gathering at The Forks, speaking with young people affected by the legacy of residential schools, attending a powwow and stopping to offer tobacco to the sacred fire that's burned throughout the four-day event.

The sun will arrive with her (at least, for the most part), following two rainy, blustery days that damped attendance and forced organizers to cancel some tent events and move others inside.

Despite the rain, parking at The Forks was scarce Friday and about 200 people crammed into a large rehearsal hall at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People to hear female elders share their residential school statements.

"I hear some people say 'you should get over it,' " said a James Bay Cree woman who spent six years in the Mohawk school in Brantford.

"It took a long time for people to come out of there. It took 100 years, maybe more, to cause this to happen to my people and you think we can get over it in one year, two years, three years...?"

As many survivors have throughout the event, the women shared snippets of vivid childhood memories from their time at some of the country's 150 residential schools.

One woman recalled the crisp, white sheets and the perfect centre part in the hair of the man who sexually assaulted her as a girl.

The statements were beamed to a television screen in the theatre's lobby, which attracted another group of people who lined the staircase as dripping volunteers carried in more folding chairs.

Meanwhile, statement-takers heard the stories of dozens more survivors in private at the Inn at the Forks.

At least 1,000 statements will be taken, and maybe more, when the event wraps up today.

Winnipeg, where the TRC is headquartered, was the commission's first of seven national events, and it was organized on the fly to give the process some momentum after a rather slow start since its creation.

Jean relaunched the process with three new commissions -- including Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair -- at Rideau Hall last fall in an emotional ceremony, and she has t`aken a particular interest in aboriginal issues.

At that ceremony, Jean said she is haunted by photos of aboriginal children being plucked from their families, herded onto trucks and forced to go to residential schools.

"They were so small," she said.

"I could not help thinking about all the parents and grandparents. I could not help thinking how many never saw them again, never found out what happened to them."

Winnipeg's event ends tonight with a fireworks display and the passing of the sacred fire's ashes to survivors from Inuvik, where the next national event will take place in 2011.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

IF YOU GO

SEE Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean when she arrives at 12:45 p.m. to make a traditional offering of tobacco at the sacred fire in the Oodena Circle or at 3 p.m. when she kicks off the big powwow.

RECORD your own message of reconciliation at the sharing corner tent.

TRY some famously-tricky Inuit games at The Forks plaza at 4 p.m.

WATCH Muffins for Granny, a documentary and Q&A with the filmmaker at St. Boniface College at 7 p.m.

WATCH Fabric of the Sky, a new play by local author Ian Ross, at Manitoba Theatre for Young People at 7:30 p.m.

LEARN all about Manitoba's residential schools at the learning tent overlooking the Oodena Circle.

CLOSE out the event at 9 p.m. with fireworks.

BRING rubber boots. The Forks might be muddy despite the sun.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2010 A4

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