Prime Minister marks Truth and Reconciliation Day in Northern Saskatchewan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Lac La Ronge area folks in a walk to commemorate Reconciliation Day and Orange Shirt Day. He is accompanied by Chief Tammy Cook Searson, Chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) and Mayor Julie Baschuk, Mayor of the Northern Village of Air Ronge. Photo by Valerie Barnes Connell Jordan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30 with a visit to the tri-communities.

Trudeau and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson took part in a commemoration of the day at the former site of the Lac La Ronge All Saints Residential School.

After being introduced by Cook-Searson, Trudeau said that it was a challenging day and Canadians need to confront the past of Canada’s actions.

“There are many who would like us to simply brush over the past and pretend it didn’t happen because they feel that talking about Truth and reconciliation marking this day somehow diminishes us as a country,” Trudeau said.

“I challenge those people and I think we all would challenge them to reflect on the fact that recognizing the truth of our past, coming to grips with it, working to atone and working to build a stronger and better future is the only way we can be that country we know we should be.”

He noted that the day was about all survivors including the elders who have deep memories and the all members of Indigenous communities that still have trauma from Residential Schools.

“It’s also about the sons and daughters and grandchildren and all members of the community who continue to live the impacts of this terrible, terrible mistake,” Trudeau said. “This terrible but deliberate choice (by) previous governments in this country to try and devalue and even eliminate Indigenous identity, Indigenous culture, Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous people.”

Trudeau stated that the goal of residential schools was to eliminate Indigenous People’s, identity, culture and knowledge. He noted another goal was teaching Indigenous kids that they had no value to this land, adding fortunately past governments failed and there are strong Indigenous communities across Canada today.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that reconciliation is just about Indigenous people and governments. Reconciliation is the action and the responsibility of every single person who lives today on Turtle Island,” he said.

“Every single one of us have to understand not just what happened in the past but the impacts that that past has in very real things today. Whether it’s trauma. or addictions or cycles of poverty, of marginalization, those are the results of deliberate policies the governments of Canada and other orders of government took on.”

He added that it was important to see that each year more people wear orange shirts to honour Residential School survivors and how it is part of both our past and present.

“Everyone here today and everyone wearing an orange shirt across the country is putting up their hand to say I am part of this healing process,” he said. “Healing and grieving takes time and everyone follows different paths. We need to be patient with each other and we need to be there for each other, but we need to keep doing the work every single day of building that better future for all who share this land.”

Later in the day, Trudeau toured the new Wellness Centre in La La Ronge, which came from a conversation in 2016 with Cook-Searson. Trudeau noted it was a concrete demonstration of the path forward.

“It’s not about the government deciding what to do or telling you how to heal. It’s about the government being there with $12 million to build something that would be led by the community for the community and of the community, to be able to actually grapple with the past and build that stronger future. I’m really looking forward to going to see it, but it is just one small thing,” Trudeau said.

The Prime Minister arrived in Northern Saskatchewan with his son Hadrien. Trudeau said it was important for his son to understand the challenges and traumas of Indigenous people, but also the strength and vibrancy of communities like Lac La Ronge.

“We’re doing it together,” he said. “You are doing that work and there’s a lot more to do, but every single day we will walk that path together and we will create a better future.”

Cook-Searson, in her introduction, said she was honoured to have Trudeau present but the day was about residential school survivors and their families of which she was one.

“Today we honour residential school survivors, and I wanted to share,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to share (about) the residential schools and what impacts they did, and continue to do on us as community, as friends, as family, as neighbours.”

Cook-Searson is a third generation survivor whose grandparents and parents, along with herself attended residential school. Her parents and grandparents never talked about their experiences. She went at seven years old

“I remember first the first day I went to residential school. I was sitting on a chair. All of us sat around there in the dorms and we all got our hair cut very short and I remember sitting there crying and I was only seven years old,” Cook-Searson said.

She said her parents probably thought it was a safe place because it was run by the government but that was not the case.

“It wasn’t a safe place. I was sexually abused by one of the workers and I never talked about that. I never disclosed that to anybody and then when people started talking about, it started coming out,” Cook-Searson said.

She gave the example of former National Chief Phil Fontaine sharing his story it gave people permission to start to talk. Then came the TRC and the 94 recommendations and then the finding in Kamloops, which gave people more permission to talk.

“When we heard, we all cried because there was the truth and it brought out so much,” she said. “Then from there we started working on our own cemetery here and we’re still not complete. We’re still working on the ground penetration radar work that we still continue to do and we’ve been working with our Elders.”
She said that there were many survivors presents and shared the story of meeting with Trudeau and presenting him with the plan for the Wellness Centre.

“We want to build capacity in the north for mental health and addictions where we have so many issues and we continue to have issues,” she said.

She said that the work was complete and the doors were open and taking in clients.

“It’s a day program—inpatient, outpatient—and the federal government has come through for us. We want to partner with the province, we want to partner with our surrounding communities, so it’s something that’s there for everybody, not only the community Lac La Ronge Indian band, it’s First Nations Metis and Non-First Nations,” Cook-Searson said.

–with files from Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan/Northern Advocate