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We Stand Together: Voices of Manitoba

On May 27, the First Nations community was shaken when the remains of 215 First Nations children were found in unmarked graves on what was once a Catholic-run Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. Some of the children were as young as three years old.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,

“Residential Schools for Indigenous people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in Indigenous children’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools during this era, often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there are an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.”

These are the voices of our First Nations pained by the loss, frustrated by systemic racism and oppression, and the stories of survivors.

Gerry (Gramma) Shingoose is a Residential School survivor attending Muscowequan Residential School from 1962 to 1971. When she heard the news about these children, it reopened old wounds, a painful reminder of the emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse she endured.

“It triggered me, my children, and grandchildren. My memories and triggers have been more frequent than before since the news came out. It could have been me, my sister, or my brother. At Muscowequan Residential School, 64 children were found after it closed. The impact of these 215 children is tremendous on a survivor, including me. It also verifies, amplifies, and validates the stories we’ve been sharing, but nobody listened.  

For Gramma Shingoose, reconciliation is accountability from the Federal Government and Catholic Church and acknowledging their involvement in these atrocities. Once that has taken place and ceremonies have been performed for the spirits of these children, true healing can begin. 

Although it may seem like events like these are a relic of the past, the last Residential School in Canada closed in 1996. The recent trauma many faced in these schools affected their lives and the lives of their families. This is known as intergenerational trauma.

In 2014, a study published by Amrita Roy from the University of Calgary on Intergenerational Trauma and Aboriginal Women: Implications for Mental Health during Pregnancy. The paper looks into intergenerational trauma (IGT) and explains why populations subjected to long-term mass trauma show a higher prevalence of disease even several generations after the original events. Residential schools and other legacies of colonization continue to impact Aboriginal populations, who have higher rates of mental health concerns. 

Another paper published in Public Health Reviews in 2017 titled Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada—a scoping review, its objective was to identify the extent and range of research on residential school attendance on specific health outcomes and the populations affected. Of the 61 articles of empirical peer-reviewed literature, they reviewed, “The empirical literature can be seen as further documenting the negative health effects of residential schooling, both among former residential school attendees and subsequent generations. Future empirical research should focus on developing a clearer understanding of the aetiology of these effects, and particularly on identifying the characteristics that lead people and communities to be resilient to them.”

In the Journal of Adolescent Health, an article titled Intergenerational Trauma: The Relationship Between Residential Schools and the Child Welfare System Among Young People Who Use Drugs in Vancouver, Canada investigated the relationship between familial, residential school system (RSS) exposure and personal child welfare system (CWS) involvement among young people who use drugs (PWUD). This study “observed a dose–response–type trend between familial RSS exposure and personal CWS involvement and a nonsignificant difference in the likelihood of CWS involvement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous PWUD when controlling for RSS exposure. These data demonstrate the intergenerational impact of the RSS on the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the CWS. Findings have critical implications for public policy and practice, including reconciliation efforts with Indigenous Peoples.”

Ray “Coco” Stevenson is a well-known traditional singer and drummer from Manitoba and has seen the devastating effects Residential Schools had on survivors living in Winnipeg. 

“I can only speak for Winnipeg and not the rest of Canada, but we did have a lot of people who ended up losing everything because of that. People with families who couldn’t look after their children because some were too involved in drowning their sorrows from some of the things they had to endure. What they went through in Residential Schools is something you can never forget as it is planted in your mind. I’m almost positive when you talk to Residential School survivors; nearly every day, one or more thoughts go through their heads haunt them.”

On Sunday, May 30, Manitoba’s First Nations held a four-day ceremony in front of Manitoba’s Legislative building, honouring the lives of the 215 children who were found and honouring survivors for their resiliency and stories. Alayh says we need to listen to the experiences of Residential School survivors, and accountability needs to take place. 

“The survivors here, their stories have been dismissed, and if they [the government] want to do action, they will stop in their tracks of the syndromes they are causing, the syndromes they created, such as the 60’s Scoop, Child and Family Services taking away children from them [Indigenous people] to disenfranchise them, to disempower them, and holding power over Indigenous people by taking their children away in

different formalities. [Meaningful action] is honouring them [Indigenous people], compensating them properly, reinstating claims. That’s just the tip of that piece to move forward. Coming, hearing, and listening at a grassroots level is one of the most important things to do.”

Elders are essential to the survival of the culture and history of First Nations as they retain the teachings and knowledge of peoples almost wiped out by colonialism. First Nations look to their Elders to carry those teachings into the future, to ensure these tragedies are never forgotten or repeated. The news of these lost children pained Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Leading Earth Man), Elder Dr. David Courchene of The Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness in Sagkeeng First Nation. However, he asks what the world will be like for the children of today and tomorrow?

“I know the challenges out there are great, and it will take the courage of people who can put aside their differences and say we have to think about our children. What footpath will we leave them? What I have seen is we’re spending the inheritance of our children. If we continue to exploit the land at the rate it is being exploited, it’s at the expense of the most vulnerable, the children.”

Indian Residential School Survivors Society

A helpline for residential school survivors can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is a British Columbia-based organization providing services to residential school survivors for over 20 years. It started by helping residential school survivors navigate the court systems and has since expanded to help residential school survivors and engage in community education for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. You can donate here.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

Works Cited:

Roy, A. (2014). Intergenerational Trauma and Aboriginal Women: Implications for Mental Health during Pregnancy. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 9(1), 7-21. https://fpcfr.journals.publicknowledgeproject.org/index.php/FPCFR/article/view/189/214

Wilk, P., Maltby, A. & Cooke, M. Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada—a scoping review. Public Health Rev38, 8 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40985-017-0055-6 https://publichealthreviews.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40985-017-0055-6

B. Barker, K. Sedgemore, M. Tourangeau, et al. Intergenerational trauma: The relationship between residential schools and the child welfare system among young people who use drugs in Vancouver, Canada J Adolesc Health, 65 (2019), pp. 248-254 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1054139X19300643

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