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Commentary

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

I know where my ancestors’ footprints belong

A survivor of Chesterfield Inlet’s Turquetil Hall residence reacts to Jane Stewart’s statement of reconciliation.

SIMEONIE KUNNUK
Special to Nunatsiaq News

OTTAWA — Today is February 16, 1998. It has been a over a month since the apology by the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs for the Canadian government’s role in residential school operations, in which many children were abused in the 1950s and 1960s.

For a while, I could not bring myself to read the contents of the government apology and announcement for reconciliation. I was afraid that the announcement would merely be a dress-up for the “mainstream society” or “dominant culture” to mask the realities of the assimilation practices.

However, there was an even more pressing matter which I hesitated to include in this article. Those are of psychic flashbacks which made it difficult for my day-to-day life and it was all I could do to focus on my studies, self-healing, and to maintain my composure.

Disappointment and hope

As a survivor of residential school, I want to state my input and views on the matter of the recent — January 7, 1998 — announcement and apology. My response is both a mixture of disappointment and hope.

First of all, my concern is on the simple matter of word usage. Facts and statistics are great tools that are used only when considered appropriate or when they meet certain objectives of a particular group or government.

I was disappointed that no statistics or data were listed as to how many aboriginal children were processed through the residential school system, in which the state and various religious denomination were managing and operating such institutions.

The government probably has the data but will not disclose it for the public. But they will focus on details of convenience. In any case the data is available as to how many children were processed through the system — more than 100,000.

At Turquetil Hall and Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School, which I went to in 1965 and 1966, there was an RCMP finding of over 200 victims and survivors of child abuse, both physical and molestation.

Apparently, there were many other residential schools and many more childhood victims who became adult survivors. I hope this puts into proper perspective the omission of the important data and the word “some” used with the statement that said “children were victims of sexual and physical abuse.”

The issue of assimilation

The other concern I had was the statement on “assimilation policy for aboriginal people.” This practice was targetted specifically to children but not less so to “men and women.”

That is what the residential schools represented — assimilation from the well-established Aboriginal life into the so-called “civilization.”

I could say truthfully with some discomfort that I am assimilated after struggling with this personally difficult issue for some time. However, I have fond memories too of what Inuit culture is about — legends that sound too fantastic in any other language and stories of incredible human feats.

My opinion is that these legends of special powers and Inuit stories should not be translated or interpreted into another language. The Inuit must maintain their cultural power by keeping secret much of what is spiritual and resource-related.

Elders’ teachings should prevail

More recent Inuit cultural history states that we are to welcome the visitors to our homeland who came from across the great waters. The price of welcoming these visitors may be summed up as follows: dishonorable treaties (land claims), concentration-camp-like reservations, assimilation policies, thousands of severe residential school child abuse cases and $350 million.

I am certain that the teachings of our elders will prevail and be heard by the non-Aboriginal population. It is my belief that the call to welcome the visitors to the Inuit homeland will be recognized, acknowledged, and accepted in its entirety.

As a childhood trauma survivor of residential school operations, I have succeeded to a degree. I admit my own failure against assimilation.

However, I can rewrite my history, which I know will certainly be different from the non-Aboriginal documentation.

“I have found my place.”

I have found my place. I know where my ancestor’s footprints belong and that theirs are ones that can never be erased from the Arctic tundra though invisible to the naked eye — locked into their special place by the time-spirit and the memories of the earth on which they have walked since the beginning.

The spirits of my ancestors still sing in the memories of the elders, waiting to be passed onto the next generation of elders. The heart of the traditional drum-dance remains strong, pumping the lifeblood of Inuit culture.

I was working with Survivors Tasiuqtit the last couple of years, but I had to withdraw from the work because I was periodically disabled by uncontrollable cases of childhood, residential school trauma “flashbacks.” There were are other issues that were convenient excuses I used to mask what I was going through, because at the time I was not sure whether I should disclose such flashbacks.

Inadvertently, I left a number of other childhood survivors waiting for development on a healing project that was planned and was nearing important steps for approval for implementation.

I take responsibility for leaving those survivors waiting for development on specialized therapy that did not materialize and which probably prolonged their difficulties. I do not kknow what else to do right now but to wait and see.

All I can do at this time is to say: Speak to your childhood trauma memory with silent gentleness; allow your childhood memory’s voice to travel with the wind.

You do not have to know that your ancestor’s spirits shall caress your memories and cradle them in a special way. Your ancestor’s spirits want you to be free. TAIMA

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