Residential school survivors and the impact of an apology

Perhaps there is nothing more Canadian than saying "sorry." We tend to say it so much that the value of an apology can be lost. That is until personal stories from fellow Canadians puts the meaning of an apology into perspective.
Mary Monica McKinnon O'Connoll (not pictured) is one of many survivors of residential school abuse. At age 86, she is beginning to speak about her experiences as a result of the federal government's official apology. (CBC)

Perhaps there is nothing more Canadian than saying "sorry." We tend to say sorry so much that the meaning of an apology can be lost. That is until personal stories from fellow Canadians puts the significance of an apology into perspective. Valerie O'Connal from Chilliwack, B.C., called Cross Country Checkup, to share the story of her mother, Mary Monica McKinnon O'Connal, with Checkup guest host Susan McReynolds. In 2008, the Government of Canada's official Statement of Apology to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools directly affected O'Connal — as did the subsequent compensation they received from the federal government.

Valerie O'Connoll shares the story of her mother's experience with residential schools and the impact that the Government of Canada's public apology had on her life.

Valerie O'Connal: My mother was a residential school survivor. It wasn't five generations ago, it was one generation ago. I've been affected, but the apology that came from former Prime Minister Harper [in 2008] had a really big impact on my mom. It rose up feelings from many, many years ago. It's very unsettling when someone can recount the day they were taken at the age of four, and they're now 86, like it was yesterday. The apology itself was finally an acknowledgement and a validation that these things happened.

There's a long way to go before we can right what was born out of [the residential school] policies. I don't think a day goes by that I don't appreciate the sacrifices that my grandparents and my parents had to make, so that I could live my life without fear. I don't feel like a victim. I don't think I ever have. But my mother is just now starting to talk about these things. What an incredible courageous individual I have for a mother.

Susan McReynolds: You said that the apology really made a difference to your mom. Had your mom talked about that experience in the residential school before the apology?

Valerie O'Connal: No, never. When the apology happened they gave her a reconciliation payment, and I was rendered speechless when she took the money and divvied up amongst all of her children. She said, "I have this envelope for you," and I said, "I don't understand. What is this for?" And she said, "This is for not being a good mom."

If anything, the apology caused her and I to become closer. She's feeling more confident to talk about her history, but it was never anything she talked about before. For me, the apology was finally a validation that it wasn't something that was imagined; it actually happened.

It's my job as a parent and a grandparent is to ensure that my children and grandchildren understand that part of our history, and help them appreciate the life that they have. My mother Mary Monica McKinnon O'Connal is just one of the most amazing gifts that I've had in my life, and when I feel like I'm having a hard time I stop and remind myself of the life she's had to live. 

Valerie O'Connal's comments have been edited and condensed. This online segment was prepared by Champagne Choquer.


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