Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall and sharing the truth of the residential school system

I had the opportunity to attend the grand opening of a residential school exhibition, called Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall, at Algoma University last week. It is a survivor-driven exhibition, and I want to recognize and thank the survivors who contributed to it, along with Algoma University and in particular the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre for helping facilitate the establishment of this important addition to our community.

For far too long we did not as a country, a province or a city, acknowledge, tell or share the story of the residential school system. I did not learn of the residential school system as a child in elementary school, a teen in high school or a university student who completed two degrees at two different institutions in two different parts of our country. I was not told the story of how children were often taken from their parents, how parents and grandparents would resist, how siblings were separated, how the children were unwillingly divorced from their language, their culture, their history, how they were told what they knew and loved and believed in was wrong and how children were mistreated. It affected tens of thousands of children and tens of thousands of families; and the social and cultural consequences are still very much a part of today. This is the truth and it is a truth we must acknowledge. Most importantly, it is a truth we must share.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, final report and calls to action show us a path forward, but I suggest that it is critical we keep one simple idea constantly in mind: Truth comes before Reconciliation. Truth comes first.

I strongly believe, and have said for years, that Sault Ste. Marie has all of the elements to lead. We have tremendous First Nation and Métis leadership, we live in an important place, Bawating: the heart of Turtle Island, and we are home to a residential school which is now a place of higher learning.

The establishment of a permanent Survivor-driven exhibition in a former residential school demonstrates this leadership and represents an important step for Algoma University and for our community. I commend the leadership and staff at the university for making this project a reality, and I encourage people to visit it. It is open to the public and guided tours are available. To book a tour, you can email shingwaukdg@algomau.ca or call 705-949-2301, Ext. 4623.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall will advance our community’s efforts to share the truth of the residential school system. It will help ensure our community at large learns about what happened and it will help ensure the experiences of survivors are never forgotten.