POLITICS

Youth compile book on impact residential schools had on parents, grandparents

04/23/2013 07:48 EDT | Updated 06/23/2013 05:12 EDT
SASKATOON - A project that encouraged Saskatchewan children to learn more about how Indian residential schools impacted their parents and grandparents lives has turned into a book.

Journey to Truth contains the students' work — poems, drawings and short stories — with maps, a statement of apology from the federal government and a page with links to websites with information on residential schools.

The project is part of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Residential School Unit and the result was on display in Saskatoon on Tuesday.

Senator Ted Qwewezance called the youth "little libraries" who can pass that knowledge on to the next generation.

But 16-year-old Tyra Stonechild said not all of her family members were able to open up.

"My kohkom (grandmother) wouldn't talk about it. She just automatically clamped up and looked away and I was like, 'well, I understand that you don't want to talk about this,'" she said.

Stonechild won second place in the picture category for her drawing of an aboriginal man, his eyes closed and the mark of a tear running down his cheek. It was chosen for the back cover of the book.

The Grade 10 student from the Onion Lake First Nation said she was thinking about the effects of the residential school experience, like heartbreak, while drawing the picture.

"I didn't know that all this bad stuff was happening, I just thought it was not that bad. But when I heard inside stories of how it all was, it kind of shocked me," said Stonechild.

FSIN vice chief Dutch Lerat encouraged students to pass the book to their families and to non-aboriginal friends and families. It's hoped the compilation will also be used in grade schools and other educational institutions.

In all, about 150,000 First Nations children went through the church-run residential school system, which ran from the 1870s until the 1990s, according to the Missing Children Project.

The group has said in many cases, aboriginal kids were forced to attend under a deliberate federal policy of "civilizing'' them.

Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide. Some died fleeing their schools.

In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the churches that ran the 140 schools and the Canadian government. A $1.9-billion settlement of the lawsuit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

(CKOM, The Canadian Press)