by Cindy Kelly
CMNS 155,taught by Dr. Marcella LaFever
There are reminders of the legacy of Indian Residential Schools all around me in the small Fraser Valley town where I live. However, I am a white woman who has little experience with the religious doctrine that created the system; little contact with those who survived the experience; and very little hope that anything I could do would affect the healing process for Residential School.
I live in the town of Mission BC. The very name identifies the purpose of the first white settlement here; a religious mission of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). It is never far from my mind that my town was founded on the premise that Fraser River First Nations people were inferior beings who were an impediment to the advancement of civilized society. It is a heavy burden for a town to bear.
I do not follow any organized religion. The motivations of religious communities are difficult for me to understand. I cannot rationalize the methods they used with the children in their care at Residential Schools nor forgive the sins they committed in the name of their merciful God. We read about and hear the stories of beatings and abuse at these schools. As a white person I am ashamed, angered, and profoundly saddened by the actions of “civilized” Canada.
The ruins of St Mary’s Mission school and its surrounding farmland and forest currently form the core of one of the most beautiful parks in the area; Fraser River Heritage Park. However, the beauty of the park is tainted by the memories of what this place actually was. I walk my dog there nearly every day. We wander through the ruined foundations of the old school buildings; watch children fly kites in the old farm pastures; walk past the Catholic cemetery which is the final resting place for the OMI Fathers. I have to wonder if they are truly resting in peace.
I think about the lives of the children of St Mary’s. As a mother myself I am heartbroken at the thought of children being taken from their parents. I sit on the foundations of the old dormitories and shudder at how lonely and afraid they must have been. I need to imagine that they must have had some happiness in their lives. The park is home now to many festivals and gatherings which bring life and joy to the community. But the shadow of the old school is always there. I feel guilty that my family has the chance to enjoy a place that created so much sadness for others. I am frustrated that I cannot begin to think of how I can help heal my own guilt or the pain of those who were there.
Close to the ruins of the old school barn sits a small boulder brought down the valley by glaciers in the last ice age. Children love to climb on it especially in the summer when the stone is warmed by the sun. I wonder if St Mary’s students climbed on it as well. The ruins of the old school are gradually crumbling; however the rock is still solid and set firmly in place. I hope that through the process of Reconciliation the pain of Residential schools will fade for all of us and crumble like the old foundations. The stone, however, will be there for many generations to come.
Kelly, F.(2008). Confessions of a Born Again Pagan. In L.Archibald, M.,B. Vastellano, & M. DeGagné (Eds.),From truth to reconciliation: transforming the legacy of residential schools (pp.11-42).Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/from-truth-to-reconciliation-transforming-the-legacy-of-residential-schools.pdf
Llewellyn J.(2008). Bridging the Gap Between Truth and Reconciliation. . In L.Archibald, M.,B. Vastellano, & M. DeGagné (Eds.),From truth to reconciliation: transforming the legacy of residential schools (pp.183-204).Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/from-truth-to-reconciliation-transforming-the-legacy-of-residential-schools.pdf
Stout, D.(2008). A Survivor Reflects on Resilience. In L.Archibald, M.,B. Vastellano, & M. DeGagné (Eds.),From truth to reconciliation: transforming the legacy of residential schools (pp.179-180).Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/from-truth-to-reconciliation-transforming-the-legacy-of-residential-schools.pdf