The Healing Garden, Grieving for 215

On Sunday, I spent some time at the Healing Garden in the St. Albert river valley. I have thought about how to discuss the recent discovery of the 215 bodies in an unmarked grave outside the Kelowna Residential School, and no matter which way I look at it, there is nothing I can say or do to give it the justice it needs.

I found myself grieving over the children who perished in the Residential Schools. I found myself grieving for the parents who had their children taken from them by force if they did not comply. This is not history buried deep in the past. The last Residential School in Canada existed until 1996. This is a living history that we all must come to terms with. The two Residential Schools in St. Albert were Youville (1873-1948), and Poundmaker (1924-1968). Even these dates are still a recent history that many of our friends, neighbours and colleagues have endured in their lifetimes. The recent discovery of the 215 children may evoke pain for those who have first hand experience of Residential Schools, or for those experiencing Intergenerational Trauma from their family history.

Truth and Reconciliation means that we, as Canadians, must accept the history of our ancestors. I was raised by European descendants; my mother’s side being predominantly English. My father’s side is less clear. While he was adopted at an early age and raised within a Ukrainian family in Ontario, he was born on a First Nations Reserve in Saskatchewan. Details of his early life are murky at best, but the takeaway for him (and for me) is that we has a connection to our Indigenous People. Throughout his adult life, my father has worked to learn much about his birthplace and his heritage, and has worked with Matawa First Nations in Northern Ontario for the last 20 years. He has felt at home there and I have learned much from him since we have opened the communications about his history. I hope that I will continue to learn and grow both with his guidance, and with the knowledge and wisdom of those around me here in St. Albert.

Today, I took the Payhonin Pledge of Reconciliation as one more step towards better understanding the heritage of our Indigenous People. I welcome open and honest communication with friends, neighbours, and community members. I welcome people to come and share their stories, wisdom and pain with me. I welcome suggestions on how I may be able to help those who are struggling through Intergenerational Trauma.

I am grateful for the Healing Garden that was developed in St. Albert in 2017. I have found myself there to ponder many things, but on Sunday, I was deeply touched by two differences that I saw there: the paper hearts someone had lovingly made and taped to the beams, and the several pair of shoes that were left there as symbols of the lives lost.

There is information available on the City of St. Albert’s website on the Healing Garden, the Residential Schools, and St. Albert’s Journey towards Reconciliation.

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