On Sept. 22, McMaster was host to a panel of Indigenous speakers and representatives as part of its continued awareness efforts through Perspectives on Peace.

The session, titled “Truth & Reconciliation Teach-In: Residential Schools in Canada,” highlighted a joint effort between the Indigenous Studies program and the Perspectives on Peace campaign to educate students about the problematic history of the residential school system in Canada.

“We wanted to give an opportunity to the university community that maybe isn’t able to take indigenous studies courses,” said Vanessa Watts, full-time lecturer with the Indigenous Studies program.

Part of the timing of the event stemmed from the recent conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, which identified 94 “calls to action” to remedy the legacy of residential schools. The TRC itself lasted for over seven years and came as a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.

The residential school system existed in Canada from the 1830s and on, with the last federally-operated facility closing in 1996. In that time, it has been estimated that out of the 150,000 indigenous children that passed through the residential schools, at least 4,000 of them died while attending the schools.

“[The goal was] to put some context to what’s been in the media lately. It’s one thing to read recommendations or see it in the news, it’s another thing to visit an actual residential school,” said Watts. “It was an extremely successful event.”

The day before the panel, members of the university community were invited to visit the formerly-named Mohawk Institute in Brantford, which served as the first and longest-running residential school from 1831 to 1970. It now stands as the Woodland Cultural Centre, and acts as a reminder to the history of schools just like it across the country.

The panel itself consisted of survivors from the location, who shared some of their experiences at the residential school.

“To see a panel of Indigenous speakers speaking to the university community about their experiences, their personal stories, even that in and of itself without context is a feat because that doesn’t happen often,” said Watts.

“People need to learn about what happened, and to know that it’s not that far in the past,” she continued.

“What we tried to do was to talk about the knowledge that is inherent with stories of those survivors, what healing looks like, and why there is a need for reconciliation. It’s not just a policy issue, or a historical fact; it’s a lived repercussion for many people.”

Perspectives on Peace was officially launched in late 2014, with an aim to promote understanding and discourse on various issues that relate to the greater, global community.

Photo Credit: Matt Clarke

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