Owen Pelletier is honouring the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation the only way he knows how.
Pelletier, who is a mentor with STR8 UP, will spend the day educating. By sharing his story in a keynote address to be delivered at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, he plans to tell the history of the new federal statutory holiday alongside his personal story and reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
In a conversation that's been edited for length and clarity, he spoke to the StarPhoenix about his keynote, the new holiday and his personal journey's intersections with the TRC's calls to action.
Q: How does your story reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action?
A: The first call to action is child welfare. I was in that system for seven years. Call to action 31 is about providing alternatives to imprisonment. I was in and out of jail since the age of 13. Call to action 62 is education. I was fortunate to graduate from Grade 12, and pursue higher learning throughout my life.
When I was in the child welfare system, I was picked on, bullied and discriminated against. Why? Because all these other students were ignorant about the situation that I was in. I was apprehended from my family. I suffer from intergenerational traumas.
I remember hearing the term 'intergenerational trauma.' I didn't know what it was. I didn't believe in it. I thought I was just a scapegoat. That's until I really became educated about it and I realized, "Hey, wait a minute. I've suffered from this all my life." This is real. There are some people who are going through these things who are unaware of that.
It's not that you're a bad person. You were dealt that hand to begin with. But that's okay, it doesn't have to be like that forever. We can help you heal and get better.
Intergenerational trauma is not just a fancy term, but it's actually real life. It affects people that we all know.
Q: What does the federal government making Sept. 30 a statutory holiday mean to you?
A: When the government makes it a holiday, the whole nation takes notice of that. By doing that, the government is fulfilling the TRC's call to action 80. We can all have a day of remembrance, reflection, action and learning. I think it's a step in the right direction and I would like to see the provinces follow that lead.
Q: What's your advice on how to honour the day?
A: Educate yourself on the issues. Educate yourself about the Sixties Scoop, and about residential schools. We as a nation need to understand and acknowledge that this is a part of our history and this really happened. I think a lot of people are in a dark cloud and are in denial about that. The discoveries of the graves this year were undeniable.
Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix