Nova Scotia

Residential school survivor in Nova Scotia calls for more support

Survivors of residential schools say the healing process is just beginning but some say there are not enough services available in Nova Scotia who are still struggling with the trauma of residential schools.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission to release final report after six years of hearings on residential schools

Dorene Bernard said three generations of her family attended residential school in Nova Scotia. (CBC News)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's mandate is finishing but some former residential school students say there aren't enough support services for survivors and their families.

Dorene Bernard, of Indian Brook, is in Ottawa for the Truth and Reconciliation closing events with her 19-year-old daughter, cousins and friends.

"It doesn't mean we're healed. This is only the first step in reconciling the history books," she says.

Now they're ready to come forward there's nothing really there to help them with that process of healing in their own families.- Dorene Bernard

She says Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Nova Scotia in 2011 was the first time many people began confronting the affect the trauma of residential schools has had on their lives. She says that opened up wounds but since then, there have been few counselling options for the survivors, their children and grandchildren.

She says many people still haven't told their families about their own experiences. 

Inter-generational trauma

"It was such a shameful part of our history that many hid that fact. But now they're ready to come forward, there's nothing really there to help them with the process of healing in their own families," she says.

She says the younger generations will need ongoing support and believes investing in those mental health services could reduce high rates of alcohol abuse, suicide and children in care.

Thousands of survivors from across the country are gathering this week for the final TRC event in Ottawa, which includes sharing circles and gathering statements from former students.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair speaks during the Grand entry ceremony during the second day of closing events for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa, June 1, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Today, TRC commissioner Murray Sinclair will release a report reflecting on the six-year process of gathering testimony from more than 7,000 people across the country. The report will include recommendations, and many expect Sinclair to argue that Canada's treatment of aboriginal people in residential schools be deemed "cultural genocide."

At the four-day event, support workers wearing bright orange vests stand out in the crowd.

Between 1923 and 1967, many native children were taken from their families and sent to the Shubenacadie School, where some were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

"I see an overflowing of support here. What's going to be at their home when they go home. It doesn't mean their feelings shut down or the impact stops when we leave Ottawa," says Bernard, who like her parents and grandparents attended Shubenacadie.

Little support for survivors

Pamela Gloade-Derochers, the executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax, hopes the commission's final report doesn't sit on a shelf.

The dollars are just not there.- Pamela Gloade-Derochers

The friendship centre offers programs for youth to seniors, but nothing specifically for residential school survivors, who she says are at various stages in their healing process.

"We do have some mental health services, but it's not nearly enough," she says. "The dollars are just not there."

Her organization serves urban populations but she says there's a need across Nova Scotia.

"There's still not nearly enough resources available even for on reserve to actually be effective in helping survivors. Overall there is a lack of resources for all organizations."

There are plans to have a sacred fire ceremony and people will gather to livestream the final report presentation at the friendship centre on Gottingen Street on Tuesday morning.

Bernard will be watching from Ottawa. She says seeing aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians gathering in the capital to talk about moving forward has given her new hope that the commission's findings won't be forgotten.

"It takes away the pain of just feeling like it was only us. We're all in this together."

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