Nunavut MLAs reflect on painful legacy of residential schools
‘To my parents who went from six children to one in a matter of hours, I feel your pain,’ says Cambridge Bay MLA
Nunavut’s members of legislative assembly held a moment of silence on Monday to commemorate 215 children whose remains were found buried on the site of a former residential school in British Columbia last week.
Speaker Paul Quassa opened the day’s sitting with a statement.
“On behalf of all members of the legislative assembly, I wish to mourn the tragic loss of 215 children who never made it home,” he said.
“As a survivor of residential school myself, I feel profound sorrow for everyone who has been personally impacted by this terrible event.”
“All of us in this house have family and constituents who are, to this day, grappling with the dark legacy of our country’s history,” he said.
“We have the duty to do all that we can do to work for justice.”
Jeannie Hakongak Ehaloak, Cambridge Bay’s MLA, shared her own story as well.
“I’m a survivor, I was taken with my four siblings,” Ehaloak said. “I was just four years old.”
“To my parents who went from six children to one in a matter of hours, I feel your pain.”
Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, said that she cried when she heard the news of the children’s remains.
“This is Canada’s past and there are even more others,” she said.
“When the children were taken, there were no more children visiting around,” she said. “There were no more children laughing and having fun.”
“Our elders changed, everything changed,” she said, urging people struggling with the news to reach out for help. “This brings out a lot of bad memories.”
There were 13 residential schools in Nunavut and 193 across Canada, with the last one operating until 1996.
Adam Arreak Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, called for Premier Joe Savikataaq to stand with Indigenous peoples across the country in demanding Canada-wide searches for mass graves at former residential schools.
“We must advocate for all necessary resources to conduct similar work at other sites of former residential schools,” he said.
“These 215 children were precious,” Lightstone said. “Their lives were cut short and we must remember.”
Other MLAs spoke about the pain their constituents have shared with them as the effects of Canada’s residential school system continues to be felt through generations.
Many wore an orange article of clothing or pin as a nod to Orange Shirt Day — September 30 — which commemorates the history of residential schools in Canada.
The 25 flags representing each community in the territory in front of the legislature in Iqaluit were also all lowered to half-mast. Quassa said it was the first time this has happened.
Anyone in distress can contact the 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for emotional support and crisis referral if needed.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society emergency crisis line is also available 24/7 for counselling support: 1-800-721-0066.