North·First Person

A message to Canada from a Cree community Chief in Chisasibi, Que.

My message to government leaders and churches is this, writes Daisy House: How would you feel if there was critical information about your children? It's like they are saying: 'We will let you keep guessing about what really happened, but we expect you to move on.'

Fort George, near Chisasibi, was the site of Quebec's first two residential schools

Daisy House, the Chief of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, Que., says governments, churches and Canadians have a role to play in helping Indigenous communities recover from the legacy of residential schools. (Submitted by Daisy House)

This First Person article is the experience of Daisy House, Chief of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi. 

As the site of the first two residential schools in Quebec, my community Chisasibi has an opportunity to show other Indigenous nations that we share their pain, we cherish their children, and we care for the spirit of their community. 

St. Philip's Indian Residential School (Anglican) operated from 1933 to 1975 on Fort George Island, the original townsite for the Cree people of Chisasibi.

The Fort George Roman Catholic Residential School (also known as Ste. Therese de l'​Enfant Jesus school) opened on the island in 1937 and operated until 1981, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The centre's records show the remains of 16 former students are buried on Fort George Island. 

The youth council in my community has requested that Canada Day activities be cancelled this year, as a way to honour both the children who never returned home from places like the Kamloops Indian Residential school and Marieval Indian Residential School, as well as the survivors who still carry the scars.

We have heard survivors share horror stories about their experiences in residential school and it is not a surprise that many of these heroes have taken their stories to their graves.

The Fort George Roman Catholic Residential School (also known as Ste. Therese de l'​Enfant Jesus school) opened on the island in 1937 and operated until 1981, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. (TRC)

It is our hope that governments and churches will share their records to show they truly do want to right a wrong and want to work with Indigenous communities across Canada.

We need healing and closure. But how can we have closure where there are still so many children unaccounted for?

My message to government leaders and churches is this: How would you feel if there was critical information about your children? It's like they are saying: "We will let you keep guessing about what really happened, but we expect you to move on."

Message to Canadians

There is also something very important that we must communicate to the rest of Quebec and Canada. 

Although there have been attempts to address the impacts of Indian residential schools in the past through individual compensation measures or formal apologies, there is an important component which we have yet to address — community. 

Julianna Kitty at her daughter Taylor's walking out ceremony in Chisasibi, Que. (submitted by Daisy House)

We are a people who from birth and through ceremonies, such as the walking out ceremony, recognize the place a child takes in our communities - in the fabric that binds our people, the land and wildlife together. 

Children and youth to this day make up the most significant segment of our communities. In Chisasibi, more than 60 percent of people are below the age of 35.

When you take one of our children, when you torture that child in an attempt to kill their spirit or when you take a child away forever, you do profound damage to the soul of our community. 

The damage goes far beyond the damage that is done to an individual Indian residential school student and it never goes away. 

What do I say to a grandmother who to this day gets upset when we disturb the footprints of a child because during the most painful time in her life, all she could do was preserve the footprints of her children as long as she could, because this is all she would have of them 11 months of every year? 

I would like to personally thank all people, officials and organizations that have offered support and assistance during these very trying times. 

For those of you that only now begin to realize the depths of the horrors that our communities have lived and ask what you can do: do not forget us, or our children. 

You honour us and them by never forgetting and showing understanding and patience whenever you interact with us. Your prayers and compassion are felt and appreciated. 

The Chisasibi Youth Council is planning a sacred fire and a candlelight vigil on June 30 and has asked everyone to wear orange as a reminder that "Every Child Matters!"

But, in order for real healing to begin, we need the truth first. 

Are governments and churches listening? 

Children in class at the Catholic residential school in Fort George, Que. in 1939. (Deschâtelets Archives)

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