Last week I attended the screening of “We Were Children” and also had the privilege of hearing the stories from those whose parents had gone through residential school. The film follows the story of two Aboriginal children, Lyna and Glen, as they endured residential school in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, respectively. These schools aimed to “kill the Indian in the child”. The effects of physical, emotional and sexual trauma they survived through persist into all aspects of their adult lives. It was such a heavy film to take in…I’m still processing…but here are some thoughts:
The First Nations “problem” we perceive to have today is just the symptom of the incredible brokenness the residential school survivors carried. Many of these children were separated, sometimes forcefully, from their parents from the age of 4 to 18. The schools forbade touching, provided no affection, taught no social or life skills and the rich family-oriented culture they were taken from was effectively erased. In addition, attacks and abuses were heaped on physically, mentally and spiritually. No one believed you even if you told them you were abused because “why would the priests do that”? So you carry the shame, the hurt, the guilt, the anger, the injustice, the rage, the helplessness and hopelessness in silence. Upon “graduating” you were tossed back out into the world but now have no idea how to cope with the new freedoms. No ideas how to be in relationship with others. No idea how to be a husband or a wife or a mother or father. Many turned to alcohol to numb the memories. Many took their own lives. Many left their own wounded children in their wake. And the children of residential school survivors are the First Nations elders we have today. They’ve faced abuse of all sorts simply because their parents (the survivors) didn’t know anything else and many have passed that brokenness on…so the generational curse really does reach into the third and forth generations.
One lady from the Haida tribe shared about her memories from before she was taken into residential school. Their one tribal law was to respect and honor each other. And so they did…everyone’s conduct hinged on this law. Families were tight and loving. Homes were clean and decorated with flowers and seashells. Everyone took care of each others needs. It was a happy time.
Apparently, the atrocities seen in this film is still considered to be a mild version of what some have experienced. I can’t imagine. Also, I was horrified to learn that Hilter’s concentration camps were inspired by the Canadian residential schools. And even more sickened by how these schools were run by various “Christian” churches. What terrible terrible representation of God and His love!! But I am reminded that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) The end of the Story has been written and Christ will conquer. All who trust in Him will not be victims but victors.
Back to our First Nations…how does healing begin?? How does healing reach those wounds from generations back? For those of us bearing Christ’s name, how might we be agents of reconciliation today? The end of the Story might already be written but right now we get to be part of the action. Hearing the stories from Christian First Nations that night bore witness to the incredible power of healing from God. How do we fit into this picture, this journey of healing? That’s what I want to know…and be part of.