TORONTO – The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) joined Indigenous people and Canadians across the country in a day of reflection on Sept. 30 to honour the first legislated National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
The organization gave their employees the day off, according to Salima Virani, regional communications manager – Indigenous at the NWMO.
On Sept. 28, the NWMO hosted residential school survivor Theresa Hall, who sits on the organization’s Council of Elders and Youth, in a virtual event.
In a news release, the NWMO said, “employees in attendance wore their orange Every Child Matters shirts and listened to Elder Hall’s truths, with open ears, open hearts, open minds, and open spirits.”
Hall spoke about her experiences at two of the notorious institutions, St. Anne Residential School of Fort Albany in Ontario and Fort George Roman Catholic Indian Residential School in Quebec.
She was seven years old when she was taken away.
The news release said, “these schools were home to some of the most disturbing examples of abuse against Indigenous children in Canada.”
Hall said, “I still feel sadness when I recall those days. In the early years before residential schools, we were so happy. There was no alcohol, no drugs. We lived a peaceful life, a balanced life, one among nature.”
The memories, dark and horrific, included many forms of abuse, including sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional violence.
Hall also told the attendees about how she was forbidden to speak the only language she knew, which was Cree.
“Cree was discouraged to be spoken among us. I didn’t know the English language whatsoever. It was very difficult to try to communicate with anyone, so I remained silent,” she said.
Hall’s sister took on the role of “mother” at the tender age of 10. Hall attributes her sibling for helping her survive the horrors of the experience.
“My sister was my role model. I loved her so much,” she said. “At night, she would pull our beds together until she knew I was ready to go to sleep and then pulled the beds apart once I was sleeping. We never got caught because if we did, we would have been punished.”
The NWMO stated in the news release they are committed to its ongoing Reconciliation journey, including advocating to ensure space is created for all Indigenous voices, and to listen to and honour their stories – past, present and in the future.
“Most importantly, the NWMO is committed to co-creating a better future based on respectful and reciprocal relationships with Indigenous peoples,” states the release.
President and CEO Laurie Swami said, “This is a good time for reflection. It is really important for us to hear Elder Hall’s story as we continue our Reconciliation journey here at the NWMO.
We can’t forget the past. We need to take action to support Indigenous communities and have difficult conversations. We still have a ways to go, but it takes time, and it is important for us to learn more and educate ourselves on this very important Canadian issue.”
The release ended with suggestions on what you can do, including learning more about the Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people in Canada.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times