Tuesday, 5 July 2011

TRC Reflections — Part 1

John Banksland, wife and grandson
As residential school survivor John Banksland was onstage telling his story, a heckler on a bicyle rode up to the outdoor podium. "Take a few more years," he yelled at Mr. Banksland. "You'll get over it."

Mr. Banksland continued talking, drowning out the heckler, until a huge RCMP officer and one of the Canadian Rangers on duty led the unwelcome guest away.

When the applause over the man's removal had died down, Mr. Banksland said: "This guy says, 'give 'em a couple of years.' We've had 130 years of this stuff. It's time to change."

A woman sitting near me started crying quietly, then weeping loudly. "Go away," she cried between sobs. The man on the bike had triggered some memory for her, or maybe it was a reaction to all the people who had told her to "get over it" during her lifetime.

This incident occurred during the opening ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Northern National Event, within the first hour of the four-day gathering.

Rosie Kagak
I was at the event for my own interest, but also to cover it for the Globe & Mail. At this point, I started to wonder if I could do it, if I could cope with this level of emotional intensity for four days and do my job. I was already choking back tears. It was so hard to witness this woman's pain.

Meanwhile, Mr. Banksland continued speaking. He said today was the first time in his life - "and I'm 69" - that he'd had the courage to wear his traditional clothing. He talked about his life at residential school in Aklavik. He spoke of the beatings, the shaming by the nuns, the loss of his language, the loss of his connection to his family, including the brothers and sisters who were at residential school with him. He talked about the change that needs to happen to help residential school survivors heal.

"It's time to start thinking of yourself as a person not as a number. My number was Number 29 in Aklavik, and that was all I was identified as for a while. It's time to realize we are people. We are not a number, we are not a statistic."

Compared to what I was to hear during the next few days, Mr. Banksland's speech was tame.

Judy Anikina-Kaglik and her daughter
At the beginning of Day 2, I spent half an hour with two "green jackets," the Health Canada workers who were onsite to make sure everyone had help coping with their emotions ... including the media. Most of us took advantage of that support, feeling sheepish because we're supposed to be tough, cynical journalists. "You're also human," said one of the green jackets.

I somehow managed to listen and cope and do my job. After I'd handed in my story to the G & M, I attended the rest of the TRC event as "a civilian." I didn't even try to pretend to be tough after that.

A priest listens to Agnes Mills
I have never witnessed so much pain; I have never heard such horror stories about man's inhumanity to man ... make that man's inhumanity to children. It's bad enough to think of someone beating or molesting another adult, or tying someone up, or telling a guy his mother is a "dirty Indian." But these were children, little ones as young as 4, tiny kids who couldn't understand why they were taken away from their families in the first place.

One of the saddest stories I heard was from a woman whose older brother used to sneak her candies when he passed her in the schoolyard. They weren't allowed to speak to each other, but she would whisper, "Where did you get them?" He told her to shush, to keep walking as he slipped the candies into her hand.
Aggie Angulalik

Years later, after her brother had died, she learned the truth. "I never knew how you came to get those candies," she said out loud in the sharing circle to her late brother. "But now I know they lured you with candies and they hurt you ... "

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