There is growing pressure to correct the history of residential schools in the public eye and for the true story to be introduced in today's education system, Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod says.
McLeod made the comment in an interview with The Nugget on issues facing the local First Nation following his re-election win Friday.
There is a strong need to add the history of residential schools to the education curriculum so elementary and high school students learn what the schools did to young First Nation boys and girls.
And McLeod emphasized when the classroom history books on this topic are written for today's students, they need a key component.
If the survivors of the schools are not the people who write the books, then at the very least the books should contain information and stories from them because “they have firsthand accounts about these schools.”
McLeod added his voice to other First Nations people calling on the federal government to disclose all records surrounding the schools so people learn how the schools were actually run.
Numerous unmarked graves have been found containing hundreds of bodies at former school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
The bodies are believed to be those of young First Nation children who were forcibly removed from their families and put in the schools where priests and nuns were their teachers.
Among other things while in the schools, the young Indigenous students were forbidden from speaking their First Nation languages and were also not allowed to acknowledge their culture and heritage.
Records tell stories of students receiving beatings, whippings and strappings if they were caught speaking their language.
They also received corporal punishment if they wet their beds, ran away only to be returned to the school or even smiled at children of the opposite sex.
And there are also accounts of the young students being punished for no obvious reasons. “As hard as it is, we need to teach accurately what happened,” McLeod said.
You can't candy coat or minimize history. In Germany, they teach about the Holocaust and it should be no different here. As much as the residential schools were an atrocity, it's a story that has to be told.”
McLeod says decades ago Nipissing First Nation would have seen its young children taken from their homes and put in the former Spanish Residential School east of Sudbury.
McLeod believes the former school in Spanish was the only school to serve as a residential school for Indigenous children in the general area.
One of that school's survivors is re-elected band councillor June Commanda.
“I've spoken to her many times about her experiences there and what she knows about the residential schools,” McLeod said.
McLeod said some of Commanda's recollections of the school include never seeing some of the students ever again.
It was a long time ago for Commanda, and with so much time having passed she wasn't certain what happened.
He told The Nugget the way she remembered things was “seeing some of the boys leaving one night and essentially not knowing what happened to them.
“Whether they were brought to another school, or were sent home or unfortunately ended up in one of those unmarked graves, we don't know” McLeod said.
“There's no way of knowing conclusively and she's going on her memory of just not seeing them ever again.”
But McLeod says given the history of residential schools, it's not a stretch to consider the possibility that some of the students at the former Spanish school died in some way.
In fact, McLeod says in conversations he's had with other Nipissing First Nation survivors, they have told him “there are graves at the site.”
However, McLeod adds none of this has ever been confirmed.
But he says this makes for a compelling reason to determine if the former school in Spanish and other former schools across Canada have unmarked graves.
“And right now there is a coordinated push from the Chiefs of Ontario and the Assembly of First Nations to resolve all these outstanding issues instead of this trickling of finding unmarked grave sites,” McLeod said.“There needs to be a full investigation on all the sites. Pull the Ba
nd-Aid off in one shot and don't keep re-traumatizing our communities (with newly found unmarked graves) on a weekly basis.”
McLeod hopes the former school in Spanish is added to the list of where investigations need to be carried out.
“We have to make sure that if there are any (graves) there that we do find them,” he said.
“This allows the communities and families to put some kind of closure to this and we can start healing from the atrocities.”
As for teaching school children about the residential schools, McLeod says the stories need to be told in an appropriate manner.“There are ways to integrate the subject matter at an elementary
school level with further learning in high schools,” McLeod said.
But he warned creating these new history books has to happen sooner rather than later.
That's because if the books are to include accounts from residential school survivors, there will be fewer survivors to speak to and record their accounts as they pass away from old age.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget