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EDITORIAL: Remembering our history is vital

"Some St. Albertans will be wearing orange shirts today, Sept. 30, to remember the lasting impacts of residential schooling and to help keep the reconciliation process alive."


An earlier version of this editorial mis-identified the relationship between Celina Loyer and Kathleen Steinhauer. Steinhauer is Loyer's mother. The Gazette apologizes for this error.

Children locked in cupboards, taunted, beaten and abused, starved and even murdered by teachers and school staff: it's a reality that's difficult for us to face even today, but it's one that thousands of Canada's Indigenous children lived through.

The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996. In the 24 years that have passed since, many of the crimes perpetrated within these school walls have been revealed. And though the era of residential schooling has ended, 24 years is not so long ago. After all, 24 years ago, former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien was serving his first mandate and former Alberta premier Ralph Klein was at the helm of the province.

Though we often hear the sentiment that Indigenous peoples should 'get over' these horrors and move on, the atrocities Indigenous children endured are not ancient history. They are a living memory – one that will continue to impact our country and St. Albert itself, which had two residential schools of its own, for generations.

Some St. Albertans will be wearing orange shirts today, Sept. 30, to remember the lasting impacts of residential schooling and to help keep the reconciliation process alive. It is the perfect time to learn more about the dubious legacy these schools left behind and have conversations with friends and family about why this part of our history matters.

This week, Celina Loyer, aboriginal programmer at the Musée Héritage Museum, shared her family's story with the Gazette. Her mother, Kathleen Steinhauer, attended the Edmonton Indian Residential School, well-known for its brutality, where she was locked up in a cupboard as punishment. Steinhauer recounted to Loyer how students were verbally abused by staff, forbidden to speak Cree and subjected to corporal punishments. Some students left the school without knowing how to raise children of their own or form positive relations with others.

“You lose access to your language. You lose access to your spiritual practices. You lose access to your culture ... all those things were taken away,” Loyer said.

Most of us can't fathom growing up without our families, or our siblings or friends, punished for speaking our native language or practising our chosen religion. But those aren't just things that happen in dystopian fiction or autocratic regimes. It happened here in the True North Strong and Free.

Back in 2015, Edmonton Indian Residential School survivor Mel Buffalo told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about a dramatic face-off around 1963 with supervisors who were trying to ram a door down that students had blocked with heavy dressers. The supervisors had begun to abuse students in the middle of the night, and the students fought back.

These stories are all around us if we choose to hear them.

Remembering this history is vital as we continue working as Canadians to right the many wrongs that were done. The old cliché goes that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it; and in the words of Loyer, “It really happened, and we can never let it happen again.”