ST. PAUL - A rally speaking out against racism and the long-standing effects of residential schools made its way from the west end of St. Paul to the Roman Catholic cathedral on Tuesday afternoon, where a round dance on the front lawn wrapped up the afternoon.
The event, organized by members of Saddle Lake Cree Nation, also paid tribute to the 215 children found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, last month.
Stopping first at the RCMP detachment, Carl Quinn addressed the crowd. He noted the event was put together to remember a part of history, and to teach people that "we have some unfinished business." The history of residential schools in Canada goes back over 100 years, but the effects are very much still present.
Carl spoke briefly about his own brother, who attended residential school when he was just five years old. Throughout his life, he was addicted to alcohol, and passed away just recently.
"They wanted to kill the Indian," said Carl, adding, "They wanted to take the Indian out of the child. And how do you do that?" Answering his own question, he explained how children were ripped from their families, their hair was cut, they were denied the right to speak their own language, they were abused, and the weren't fed properly. This was done "day after day."
Bernice Cardinal offered a few words to the crowd, as they stood in front of the RCMP detachment. She spent nine years at Blue Quills when it was a residential school.
"It was hard," she said. When she arrived at the school, Bernice didn't speak English.
She acknowledged that there were some nuns who were nice to the children, but never in front of the others. "I forgave all those priests and nuns," said Bernice, but "I'm still healing today."
She said that when she heard about the findings in Kamloops, she cried, and it brought back a lot of memories. During her time at Blue Quills, Bernice tried to run away from the school twice.
She recalled one incident of racism that remains with her, during her time at Blue Quills. Students were learning Scottish dancing and were going to put on a concert. Bernice, one of the better dancers, was supposed to perform. But then she was told she was "too dark," and only the lighter-skinned children were allowed to dance.
More stories and emotions shared
The rally continued on along main street, escorted by local law enforcement. When the crowd arrived at the cathedral, more stories were shared.
Martha Cardinal says she experienced being in the foster system and attending residential and boarding schools when she was young, after her mother's passing.
"I saw a lot of things at those boarding schools . . . it wasn't easy," said Martha. As she recalled her experiences, she grew emotional, especially when speaking about how she was never taught how to love her own children.
"I was never taught to be a parent."
She said she did not know to hug her children, and had lost her culture along the way.
"I was never taught to show love, because I didn't know what love was."
Martha says she had to revisit her life in order to be proud of who she is, and now she is proud.
Due to being in residential schools and foster homes, Martha says she was never close to her own siblings. She recalled a time when her three-year-old sister was at the same school as her, and the younger sibling was crying. Martha says she wanted to tell her sister it would be OK, and she wanted to console her, but she could not.
"After I left residential school, my life was never the same."
Martha acknowledged that she feels mad and angry about the things she witnessed and experienced.
"We need to put closure to what we went through," she said, adding, she was speaking for herself, and noted that it has taken her 70 years to get to where she is now, and is still seeing a therapist to help her through.
Her own grandchildren sometimes wonder, "Kookum, what's wrong?" but Martha says she can't tell them what's inside of her.
Speaking about the recent discovery in Kamloops, Martha said with certainty that there are bodies at other residential schools.
Saddle Lake Cree Nation Coun. Darcy McGilvery described Tuesday as an "eye-opening day."
"We won't rest until there are answers. . . We will find the answers," he said.
Pamela Quinn, also a councillor with Saddle Lake Cree Nation, also addressed the crowd. She noted that residential schools aren't "history" but rather the effects are something that people continue to wake up to every day.
She spoke about her own feelings of anger and frustrations.
"I'm tired of being resilient. I just want to live in peace," said Pamela.
She spoke about how the current child welfare system is still taking children away from families and communities, and said people should feel uncomfortable when hearing the stories and experiences about residential schools.
Pamela encouraged people to unite and rise up, and shared her love for everyone, and her home.
Town of St. Paul Maureen Miller spoke briefly on the steps of the cathedral also. As a non-Indigenous person, she asked for help learning the story of residential schools, and called on the community to take time to learn more about the things that happened.
"We need to pull together," said Miller.
Offerings in the form of orange tobacco ties were put into a fire by attendees, in memory of the 215 children found in Kamloops.
An estimated 6,000 children died at residential schools in Canada. The 215 found in Kamloops are just some of them, said Carl. As the rally came to a close, he noted that it is important to give Indigenous children their identity back. He also called upon the Catholic church to offer an apology, which has not yet been done locally or by the Pope.
And in the end, "We want to find the children," said Carl, speaking to other unmarked graves that exist in Canada.