'Everyone should know': Island student tells the story of residential school survivor
Basel Alrashdan thinks the way to make a better future is to talk about the past.
The 13-year-old came to Canada with his family in 2015, after fleeing the war in Syria, and soon he'll become a citizen of this country.
Basel wants to honour the treaties of the country's first peoples at the upcoming citizenship ceremony. It's something that's not part of the Oath of Citizenship, but Basel plans to recognize Indigenous people in whatever way he can.
His inspiration comes from residential school survivor Charlotte Morris whom he met at Human Rights Day in Charlottetown last year.
"After seeing how different my story was from people that went to residential schools, it made me want to know about the treaties and what happened in the past," he said.
Basel and Morris have since worked together on a heritage fair project about her experience in the residential school system.
His project is now in the running for the national Young Citizens program — an initiative recognizing and celebrating presentations from heritage fairs around the country.
"I had no problem being part, letting him take my story and share it," Morris said.
"To me that was awesome because Aboriginal schools should be recognized ... It needs to be known to other children in the school system.That was an honour to me, to be part of the heritage fair with Basel."
Morris said she was probably six or seven years old at the time she was taken from her family in Lennox Island to a residential school in Nova Scotia.
Though she was with her brother and sister at the school, Morris said "there was a lot of fear that set in."
Morris did not go into details about her experiences at the school, but she said she felt like she'd lost a significant part of herself.
"My culture was taken away from me," she said.
'Everyone should know about this'
Basel and Morris say they have a bond as they share similar experiences. Both were forced from their homes to a place they never knew — though with incredibly different outcomes.
For Basel, he wants to make sure people know the story of Charlotte Morris and countless others who suffered in residential schools.
"What's important is that everyone should know that the residential schools wasn't for education, it was to destroy families, cultures and their languages," he said.
"Everyone should know about this."
Alrashdan will become a Canadian citizen in about eight months.
He had planned on including a reference to Indigenous peoples during his Oath of Citizenship. However the oath must be recited word for word.
"It makes me kind of sad, because I don't get to talk about what's in my heart," he said. "It doesn't make me comfortable."
'I want to share this'
In an email to CBC News, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said while the oath must be spoken word for word, changes are planned.
"The Government is committed to advancing the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which includes changes to the Oath of Citizenship to reflect treaties with Indigenous Peoples," the email said.
A change would require an act of Parliament, and there is no timeline for doing this yet.
For Alrashdan, the most important part of the project was helping people understand the history.
"The reason why I did this topic is that I want to share this," he said.
"I just know that I've done an achievement and it is very nice and respectful to share all of that."
For more on Basel's project and to hear him interview Morris for his project, visit the Young Citizens website.
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