OTTAWA – Governor General Mary May Simon had some very personal reflections on Wednesday on the eve of Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day.

As the daughter of a white father and Inuit mother, May Simon said in a statement that she was not allowed to attend residential school.

She remained there and was home-schooled while other children were torn from their homes, separated from their families and sent to residential schools where they were not allowed to speak an indigenous language or honor their culture. .

May Simon, who was born in an Inuit village in northern Quebec, remembers visiting families where the absence of children was a “palpable void”.

“I was a substitute, a beloved substitute, for mothers and fathers who were desperately missing their children,” she said.

“We all felt it. The grief of missing part of our community.

Several residential school survivors shared their stories at a ceremony Wednesday night on Parliament Hill ahead of Thursday’s first day of truth and reconciliation.

The outdoor ceremony took place near the Centennial Flame, where mounds of plush toys and pairs of children’s shoes were laid in honor of the children who never returned from residential schools.

The Peace Tower was illuminated in orange and the flag of the survivors was hoisted at half mast.

Céline Thusky recounted being torn from her family at the age of seven, having seen her classmates being physically and sexually assaulted at school and having no one to comfort her.

Inuit eldest Levinia Brown said, “As children attending residential schools, many did not hear I love you and we were made to feel that we were not good enough. They saw some of their comrades die “and we remained, children, alone to manage our grief”.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded the courage of the survivors and acknowledged that it cannot be easy for them to tell their story.

Canada is seen as a peace-loving country that respects the rights of people, but it is also a country that has made “huge and terrible mistakes,” Trudeau said.

“Everyone knows how great we are, how heroic we were then or how there were brave leaders at other times,” he told the little one. crowd gathered for the ceremony.

“It is more difficult to reflect on the truth of the mistakes, of the wrongs that we have done in the past, but that is what this day must be, this day of truth and reconciliation.”

Reconciliation, Trudeau said, does not just mean looking back and understanding the mistakes made in the past, but recognizing that Canada lives, even now, with the legacy of those mistakes in the form of injustice, inequality and systemic racism.

Truth and Reconciliation Day is not just for indigenous peoples, he added.

“And all of you, in your daily lives, take a moment to listen to the stories of a survivor, of an Aboriginal elder who shares his perspective, his experiences in this country,” he said.

“And know that this story, their story, is also your story. And until we understand as a country that the story of each of us is all of our stories, there can be no truth, there can be no reconciliation. “

Truth and Reconciliation Day is meant to honor lost children and residential school survivors, 140 of whom operated across the country from 1831 to 1998.

Some 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend church-run schools, where many suffered physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition and neglect. More than 4,000 are believed to have died.

“The legacy of colonization has had a devastating impact on Indigenous peoples, including the loss of language, culture and heritage. This pain has been felt from generation to generation, and it continues today, ”said May Simon in her statement.

“These are uncomfortable and often difficult truths to accept. But the truth also unites us as a nation, brings us together to dispel anger and despair, and instead embrace justice, harmony and trust.

In June, Parliament accelerated a bill making September 30 an annual public holiday for federal workers.

The bill was passed shortly after the tragic discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children in anonymous graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Since then, anonymous graves have been discovered at several other former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, while other old school sites are still being explored with ground-penetrating radar.

– With files from Hina Alam

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 29, 2021.

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