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

Flags representing each community in Nunavut fly at half-mast outside the legislature on Monday to commemorate the lives of the 215 children whose remains were found at the site of a former residential school in B.C. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

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.

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jeff on

    I attended res school for 4yrs. That is where I first learned about alcohol & all things not uplifting. I observed much discrimination & being considered ‘not the same as’ by my town counterparts. Supervisors & school teachers alike treated us like 2nd class citizens. My fave memory of res school is when I graduated & knew I would never be returning to the crap hole. I deeply sympathize with the innocent young souls that died at Kamloops res school. May you rest in peace ❤? & may your oppressors rot in f’n hell.

  2. Posted by Question on

    When these 3-4 year old children were taken away from their parents. What were Caucasian 3-4 year olds doing? I hope going to school too.
    If people say get over it over move on. Imagine having to live and grow up to alcoholics and sexual abusers who survived from the fucking residential schools? We are still struggling with life due to these fucking residential schools. They were created to take out the Indian and Inuit of out these children. What they instead did was take out the Indian and Inuit out of them and filled them with alcoholic angry abusers.
    The Suvivors should stand tall and tell what happened to them. So that they can take that pain out and teach others what they went through. That could be healing them at the same time too. Maybe if you tell your story many of our hurt Inuit and Indian will be able to heal. Maybe they’ll be able to say wait I wasn’t the only that went through this. I have to speak out to heal. This may help all survivors too who may feel embarrassed to talk but it may help those people. Also help their family members as well who endured all of what we had to deal with the survivors of residential school.
    Some days I imagine how our cultures would be like if it weren’t for the residential schools. I grew up to being scared of cops cause cops were the ones who took our children from our parents. Also grew up to being scared of catholic people. I was too young for residential school. But my older sister was of age for residential school. Up to today I never want to deal with the police.

  3. Posted by Steve Hill on


    I can not imagine, the pain and suffering endured by family`s torn apart, and children sent off to to the residential schools against their will.

    A very, very dark period in our nations past.

    With time, and with effort, we will mend these bridges, we will heal this wound.
    We can, and will learn from our past mistakes – and ensure that we never again allow our Governments policy makers to infringe our our Constitutionally enshrined right : To celebrate: who we are: as we are : as equal members of
    this great nation.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the family’s of these children.

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