New Brunswick

Indigenous workshop participants experience 'dirty details' of painful past

A workshop called "Building Bridges through Understanding the Village" was held at Mount Allison University with the aim of better understanding the history of Indigenous people and helping participants heal from a "fractured" past.

Goal of Mount Allison event is to figure out how to heal

Kathi Hemphill Camilleri, a Métis Cree from British Columbia, is the facilitator of 'Building Bridges Through Understanding the Village,' a workshop designed to raise awareness of Indigenous history. (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

It's called "Building Bridges through Understanding the Village" — a workshop that takes participants from the time before Indigenous people first met settlers to the healing after experiences such as residential schools and assimilation.

Mount Allison University hosted the workshop on Thursday, opening it to staff, students and people from the community.

"It's really great to watch other people take part, people that ordinarily wouldn't know the down and dirty details kind of thing," said Patty Musgrave, the Indigenous affairs coordinator at the university in Sackville.

T-Shirts are sold on campus as part of Orange Shirt Day, which promotes awareness of the impact of the residential school system. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

Participants gather around a small village, represented by artifacts, and play the roles of children, relatives, elders, hunters and gatherers.

They're taken through meeting settlers, disease, children being removed and sent to residential schools, and at the end, a revival of language, songs, dances, cultures and values.

One person that just walked out said, 'I feel like I've just been punched in the face — not in a bad way, in an awareness way.'- Patty Musgrave

"Then the children are welcomed back if they want to be welcomed back," said Kathi Hemphill Camilleri, a Mé​tis Cree from Campbell River, B.C., who facilitated the workshop.

"We say welcome home to who you really are. You should never have been made to feel ashamed and then we do some debriefing around that. What is it people can do now, taking away their deepened learning? What is it they can go and do to be part of the healing that's happening now?"

Hemphill Camilleri said the goal is to figure out how to heal from a "painful, fractured" past.

"The reason why we do it experientially is because we're human and we learn by doing," she said.

"And so often, people will read books, but the experience of going through history will help deepen that understanding. People will feel it, and maybe what they learn, they won't even be able to put into words for a while, but they're actually experiencing going through history," she said. 

Hemphill Camilleri said she had one man tell her the workshop will make a difference in his interactions with Indigenous people.

By going through the experience, people gain a deeper understanding, she said.

"When everybody starts speaking the same language we can really start working together to make positive change happen quite quickly," she said.

Patty Musgrave, the Indigenous affairs co-ordinator at Mount A, says students really want to understand the history of Indigenous people. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

Musgrave said the workshop has been a positive experience.

"One person that just walked out said, 'I feel like I've just been punched in the face — not in a bad way, in an awareness way,'" Musgrave said. "And I said that's awesome, like I've been punched in the face many times, and that's why I speak up about things like I do.

"So if one person left here saying I feel like I got punched in the face that means that person is going to share more."

Musgrave said students on campus really want to understand the history.

Eventually, these students will become professionals in communities from coast to coast, she said. And in turn, they'll be able to reach even more people.

The workshop was held in conjunction with Orange Shirt Day on campus, which has been held on campus since 2013 to promote awareness of the impact of residential schools.

Shirts with the words "Every child matters" were selling well, Musgrave said. Proceeds will support next month's powwow at the university.