Recently, in one of our classes, we watched The Secret Path; a film about a boy named Chanie Wenjack, who escaped from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in 1966 and did not survive. Residential schools were a by-product of European colonization in Canada. They were established in order to take Indigenous children from their families and homes, and assimilate them into European culture and ways of life. The main objective was simply to ‘kill the Indian in the child’, and the methods used to achieve it have been often compared to those used in ‘the Final Solution’, a term used throughout the Holocaust. Indeed, the events including and surrounding the residential schools have rightly been called cultural genocide. Watching the film, which is an animation of the graphic novel written about the same boy, made me feel, yet again, disgusted in the human species. I’ve previously done some research on residential schools and have been in some ways involved in the reconciliation process, but the topic never fails to bring me back to reality. The way that a group of people were treated, simply because they were different, goes against everything I believe in, and makes me feel as if we are not worthy of anything because of the harm we have caused others. I feel utter disappointment, sadness, fear, and anger. I wonder how I can live with myself, knowing that just by being here, I’m contributing to cycles very much like those that led to the residential school system.
This kind of injustice, abuse and discrimination is found everywhere, and they are constant indications of the many ways we, as humans, have failed both each other and ourselves. I’m also reminded of the immense amount of work that still waits to be done, and the immense number of people it will require. Not only must we reflect on the hurt we have caused others, but attempt to repair bonds of trust that have been broken years, decades, or even centuries earlier. As imperfect citizens of this planet who have all caused someone else pain, and have suffered ourselves, it’s our job to do as much as we can to build bridges and reach out to others, no matter what the circumstances may be. Hurt can have lasting effects, and some things that may seem picture-perfect, or improved from earlier times, can have certain elements ingrained into their cores, so much that radical change is needed. This applies to the decades of mistrust and damage caused by colonization in Canada, but is evident in other countries, other time periods, and simply in everyday life. In most, if not all situations, change won’t come easily, and never has. It is our responsibility as people who share this world, to use both our heads, and hearts, when thinking, listening, speaking, interacting, and doing. With those as our most valuable assets, the potential for growth and transformation becomes a lot more attainable; less of a dream, and more of a goal.
For more information on Chanie Wenjack’s story, we recommend reading:
For a more in-depth look at the history of residential schools:
To find ways in which you can learn more about truth-seeking and repairing bonds: