North·Point of View

'A horrendous month': Is September the wrong time to commemorate residential schools?

Three former residential school students share their thoughts on the proposed holiday and how it should be celebrated.

Proposed national holiday passes 3rd reading in House of Commons; heading to Senate

Three former residential school students share their thoughts on a Sept. 30 national day for truth and reconciliation, and how it should be celebrated. (Submitted)

If all goes according to plan, Canadians will have a new statutory holiday to commemorate and learn about the atrocities of the residential school system.

The bill to create the day — Bill C-369 — passed its final reading in the House of Commons last week. It needs to pass through Senate before it becomes law.

The proposed national day for truth and reconciliation is Sept. 30.

Three former residential school students living in the Northwest Territories shared their thoughts on the proposed holiday and how it should be celebrated.

Lawrence Norbert, Pauline Gordon and Vince Teddy all spent time living at Grollier Hall — a Catholic residence for residential school students in Inuvik, N.W.T. — while attending residential school.

What do you think about marking the day on Sept. 30?

Lawrence Norbert: I think just to move it back to June 21 [National Indigenous Peoples Day]. The whole month of September leading up to Sept. 30 is a sad time for us as former students. Taken away from our families, homes, communities, brought into this institution. That's the conflict — how to celebrate something to honour the former students and families.

Pauline Gordon: Fall still triggers a lot of really sad memories for me. For 10 months, you were just a number. So I too have struggles with the fall date. I try to get over … how it triggers, but it is something I just can't get over.

Vince Teddy: September for myself, like Lawrence and Pauline, it's a horrendous month. But just in saying that though, I think today our children that are in high school or grade school need to know that that's where we came from. The first few years will be gut wrenching sad, but over time, after the truth comes out, then the reconciliation can begin.

Grollier Hall in 1987. Lawrence Norbert lived in Grollier Hall when he was going to residential school. (NWT Archives/James Jerome/N-1987-017-2599)

How should the holiday be commemorated?

Lawrence Norbert: I think we former students really have to sit around and talk to each other about this and how it's affected us. You look at the institution itself, it separated the boys and girls on different sides of the building. The boys split into junior and senior boys and you never talked, even if you were in one big building. At some point we need to talk to each other and that will be the beginning.

Pauline Gordon: A precursor to the holiday should be an education component through media, Facebook, everything. This holiday is about the settlers understanding what we went through — the whole of the Canadian society is impacted by that because now we have people assuming that because we are Aboriginal, we are the have-nots because we choose to be. We have to talk to people about our stories, help them recognize how much of an impact this has had on our lives. So many generations impacted by this. The onus shouldn't be on us to tell the truth, settlers should feel a need to understand and know we can't just get over it.

Vince Teddy: I would take the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and take the 10 principles of reconciliation and use that as my benchmark to proceed. The reconciliation, the forgiveness, that road to recovery and the road to a normal life. That's what I want my children to remember. We gotta heal. It's a sensitive thing but we gotta heal.

Written by Randi Beers, based on a roundtable hosted and produced by Alyssa Mosher