Talking to Kids About Residential Schools
Treaty 2 Territory- Since the news broke on May 27th about the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, people have been wondering what to do, what to say, how to talk to their kids, families or students about Indian Residential Schools (IRS). Let me offer a few suggestions.
Start by asking yourself, “What you know about our history and truths?” Even though it may be difficult, now’s the time to answer questions that our children and youth may have. If these conversations take place in a classroom or group setting, then it’s best to sit in a circle where everyone can hear and see each other. Tell the children the truth, that were once laws in Canada that sent Indigenous children to schools that were far away from their homes. And in those schools bad things happened and these kids weren’t allowed to speak their language or see their families. If the kids are older and are able to handle more details, then they can be told that these children were not treated well. That there these laws were put in place because our people were seen as inferior and that their culture and ways of knowing and living were wrong and should be removed. Much older children/youth can be told about assimilation and genocide, opening the door to discussions about our history and how that history affects us today. It may be uncomfortable but given what is happening in the news today, it’s necessary.
I would like to share the titles of some books that might help start those conversations and help children and youth understand about the history of Indian Residential Schools, what they were and how children and families were affected. Follow-up discussions might also include the topic of Reconciliation and the 94 calls to action and ways of moving forward.
For generations, the full history of Canada’s residential schools, which existed for more than a century and housed 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit kids with the goal of assimilation into white society, was suppressed and ignored. Charlene Bearhead, the former education lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, has thought about those parent-kid conversations a lot. “Our children are going to grow up with this truth, whether we’re ready or not,” she says. “The best thing we can do as parents is find the courage to talk about it, and know that it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be things that we want to hear. But it’s things that we need to hear, and learn along with our children.”
Submitted by Renée McGurry, Earth Lodge Development Helper