Truth and Reconciliation and the Road to Reclamation
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Truth and Reconciliation and the Road to Reclamation

By Shayla Wicks, Welding Book Specialist

tansi!  

My name is Shayla Wicks. My traditional name is sîpihko kîsik piyisiw iskwew (Blue Sky Thunderbird Woman). I am from Edmonton, Alberta, and I am a proud Métis woman. My family is nehiyaw (Cree), French, and English.

This September 30 is National Truth and Reconciliation Day. This is a federal statutory holiday that was called to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This day is incredibly important to me and is more than just another day off work. It’s a day that ensures that the devastating legacy of residential schools is never forgotten.

Residential schools operated in Canada from the 1870s to the 1990s, with the last school closing in 1996. These schools were notorious for the mistreatment of Indigenous children, with many of the children never returning home. Thousands of children’s bodies have been found at these residential school sites and more are being searched. For the children who did survive, they were left with horrific trauma that would take generations to unlearn.

The blatant mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada did not stop with just residential schools. There was the Sixties Scoop, the Starlight Tours, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and the Water Crisis, just to name a few. If you are asking yourself what some of these are, you are not alone. Many of the injustices that have occurred—and continue to occur—go unspoken.

My grandma and her three siblings grew up in an orphanage where she was disconnected from her parents and her culture. They were just children when they were placed in this home. My great-aunt remembers feeling scared and hungry all the time. She told me how her bed was placed in a room where all the linens for the orphanage were kept. She remembers food from previous meals that she did not eat being re-served again in the meals to follow. 

She was left alone for hours on end in her room, usually separated from the rest of her siblings. They were also put down verbally, often called “dirty little half breeds.” The transgenerational trauma is felt in my family, starting with the circumstances that my grandma and her siblings faced, my mom faced, and that I now face today.

When a person experiences trauma, this can biologically change their brain chemistry and how they respond to stimuli within their environment. Trauma is also shown to physically change the DNA of person. Transgenerational trauma is defined as “trauma that gets passed down from those who directly experience an incident to subsequent generations.” This is why the effects of residential schools and many other issues are still so strongly felt today. This is also in part why addictions, suicide, homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration rates are higher in Indigenous communities.

When I was growing up, I never understood why our family never practiced any of our traditions or embraced our culture. I never learned what it meant to be Métis until I was 15. There is shame in many Indigenous communities and the shame of being Indigenous can be so much that if you were “white passing,” you wouldn’t admit to your roots. My family would not admit they were Métis and when I started to take back my culture, I was on the road alone.

Today, I am reclaiming who I am; I am reclaiming my culture. I attend our ceremonies, I practice our traditions, I am learning our language, and I am thankful and proud of who I am.

I will break the transgenerational trauma, I will practice my culture, and I will let my voice be heard. I will never stop fighting for what’s right and to help our people have a chance at a better future.

Want to help? There are many things that can be done to help support Indigenous communities. Educate yourself on important Indigenous issues, listen to Indigenous voices, and stand in solidarity with us.

This September 30 marks the first ever Truth and Reconciliation Day and I encourage everyone to reflect on residential schools this day and honour those who were affected.

hiy-hiy (thank you).

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