Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/5/2010 (3433 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
DENNIS White Bird has been chief of the Rolling River First Nation and grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
But long before that, White Bird was one of thousands of aboriginal children who went to a residential school.
Like many other students, White Bird suffered physical abuse at the hands of the nuns who were his teachers, when he followed in the steps of his grandparents and parents and spent seven years at residential school.
"I didn't speak a word of English when I went to school, so I was severely beaten by the nuns," White Bird told about 300 people gathered at The Forks Oodena Celebration Circle on Wednesday during the Day of Healing and Reconciliation for residential school survivors and their families.
"I did not know the difference between yes and no, so I was beaten for it. In my first classroom, I didn't know the morning prayer, so I was beaten.
"The nun grabbed me by the hair and tossed my head against a metal cabinet. It was hard enough it would draw blood."
White Bird said the abuse didn't stop at the residential school. "Little did I know when I went back into my community seven years later that my community didn't want me anymore," he said. "My own cousins tried to beat me up. One of them held a knife to my throat.
"(Residential schools were) a system that took away your language, your pride and many of the things that would make us successful."
Wednesday's event coincided with Australia's National Sorry Day for treatment of aboriginal people and recognized next month's National Day of Healing and Reconciliation in Canada.
The day has been twice marked on May 26, but this year it is being held on June 11 to coincide with the federal government's apology to aboriginal people two years ago.
Wednesday's forum allowed Murray Sinclair, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench justice, to tell residential school survivors and staff to come forward and talk about what happened at the schools — both good and bad.
"We're not interested in just the bad stories," Sinclair said. "We are interested in knowing the complete history of the schools... . If you are silent, then the story of residential schools will never be complete. We have an obligation to reveal that story. We need to educate the country, we need to educate your children.
"They need to understand it was not your fault."
Sinclair said part of the legacy of residential schools and the loss of aboriginal culture is youth joining gangs and committing suicide.
"The importance of our loss of culture cannot be underestimated," he said.
"The schools took away our language, our culture, our belief systems, our way of talking to our creator. All of that was taken from us and we were punished severely for trying to keep hold of those things.
"Our youth need to know what it means to be an aboriginal person... . To figure that out, we need to know our history."
Sinclair said he already knows one thing: the five years and $60 million allotted for the commission to do its work will not be enough.
"But in the five years, we will ensure that we have started the conversation."
Sinclair told the crowd to mark June 16 to 19 because the commission is holding a national event at The Forks to hear from survivors — the first of several across the country.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.