(By Sonia McLeod)
My father was from Cowessess First Nation where the recent discovery of seven hundred and fifty-one unmarked graves were found. The Marieval Indian Residential School was founded in the 1890s by Catholic missionaries and lies within the lands of the Cowessess First Nation.
In the 1960s, the federal government took control of the school. The school was handed back over to the Cowessess First Nation in 1987. Marieval Indian Residential School was only one of hundreds of such schools across Canada.
My husband watched the recent live broadcast from Cowessess announcing the discovery of these 751 unmarked graves. I could not bring myself to watch it. I can't because it is too emotionally painful.
My parents are both residential school survivors.
On June 24th, I turned forty-seven years old. I celebrated my life and had cake, but it was overshadowed by the countless lives of our Indigenous children that were taken. Children as young as three were taken to these schools and never saw their families again.
Hundreds upon hundreds of children can't celebrate their birthdays like I do. We can't even put a name to their remains. They can't be identified. Today, thousands of Indigenous people and families are mourning across Canada.
As a mother, I can't even imagine what they went through by having their babies ripped away from them and forced to go to school. Many were never seen again. And those that did survive could barely bring themselves to tell and relive the horror stories of what happened to them of how they were viciously raped and beaten.
Some never got to tell their stories.
How does one move forward, and “get over” any of that? And then to have to endure the rest of society marginalize you and call you a “dirty drunken Indian”? Or be screamed at about the money the government gives them? I'm not even going to get started on that one.
But have you ever walked a mile in their shoes?! Indigenous people are the ones who have been at the bottom of the barrel eating whatever has been given to us.
But the worst of all this is that it was done in the name of God. This was NOT God. Those were twisted, evil, and perverted monstrous men and women in robes.
I had a rough upbringing. I was raised by my Kukom and my mom in childhood. I didn’t have my father growing up. Both my parents were basically kids when I was born and I don’t blame either of them for the things I went through. They were incapable of giving me what they themselves did not have to give.
And that was the nurturing, love, and security that they should have both had. They were hurting too. And because of that, alcohol and drugs dominated our home. A prevalent state that many of our communities are still in!
They could not fix what was broken inside of themselves, nor in me. They could not go into the deep recesses of my heart and heal my wounds. It had to be the One who created me.
Growing up I didn't want “church” and as a kid, I went to a few pow-wows. One time, I almost got a good licking by my Mushum for opening up his ceremonial pipe bag. If my Kukom hadn't been home, I probably would have gotten one for sure.
But one day, when I was twelve years old, my life was forever changed at a Christian summer camp when I responded to the call of God. When I lifted my hands as an act of surrender to pray, the Spirit of God filled my heart and soul. I was in awe of what happened.
And from that moment, no one could tell me that Jesus Christ was not real.
But life at home turned south then and things went downhill. When I became an adult, I struggled on many levels. My heart was desiring to know God.