Regular classes were replaced with something quite different at the University of the Fraser Valley on Wednesday. The university transformed its curriculum for that day, so that students, along with the rest of the campus community, could gather together for the Indian Residential School Day of Learning.
The day-long collection of learning events, on-going displays, and interactive activities was held in conjunction with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
national event in Vancouver, which runs Sept. 18 to 21.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has a federally assigned mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the Indian residential schools and to inform all Canadians about it.
The Commission's website notes that the TRC hopes to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. A slogan that explains the motivation behind the TRC states that the process is "for the child taken; for the parent left behind."
UFV gave all students and employees the chance to learn more about this aspect of Canadian history and how it still impacts Canadian society, by taking part in events scheduled for several UFV locations on Wednesday. The decision to transform the curriculum for this one-day event was approved by the UFV Senate at its June meeting.
"We believe that it is our responsibility as a university to participate and show leadership in the process of examining, discussing, reflecting upon, and healing the wound in our national fabric caused by the legacy of the residential school system," said UFV provost and VP academic and Eric Davis
Events at UFV included a keynote address titled Schooled for Inequality by Dr. Jean Barman, a historian with specialties in the history of education and B.C. history; a presentation from UFV alumnus Dallas Yellowfly and 3 Crow Productions about the experiences of local residential school survivors; displays about Coqualeetza, St. Mary's and other residential schools; areas where participants could express themselves through art and writing; and a slideshow of photos related to the residential school experiences. Film screenings, presentations, and readings ran throughout the day at various UFV locations in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and Hope.
The residential school experience had a profound effect on indigenous people in Canada. The governmentfunded, church-run residential schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children. The system was active from the 1870s through the end of the 20th century. Generations of aboriginal children were compelled to attend the 130 residential schools across the country, two of which - Coqualeetza and St. Mary's - were located in the Fraser Valley.
More than 150,000 children were placed in these schools over the more than 100 years that they existed; 80,000 are thought to be still living today. Much information has come out over the past few decades about the mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that took place within these schools. Even children who did not experience direct abuse were affected by being wrenched from their family and home community at a young age. And those who returned to the community as adults did not know how to function as a traditional member of their society.
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology on behalf of the Government of Canada to the survivors of residential schools, stating: "This policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country."
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