Things are moving forward, 'we’ll do it together': Second-generation residential school survivor

·3 min read

Darlene Lafontaine was honoured to take part in the Orange Shirt Day walk in Timmins.

The event was a chance for her to show gratitude to the resilience and spirit of her mother, who was a residential school survivor.

Lafontaine was one of the many people who joined the seventh annual walk held by the Timmins Native Friendship Centre today.

“As a second-generation survivor, I know that I have healing that I need to do. And coming to an event like this really helps do that,” she said.

Sept. 30 marks the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.

Dressed in orange, people of all ages and backgrounds took it to the streets to honour residential school survivors and those who never made it home.

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by Phyllis Webstad's story. Webstad was six years old when she arrived at a residential school and had her orange shirt taken away.

The residential school system has left an impact on Lafontaine's family through her mother and the way she raised her children.

Lafontaine said they didn’t know their language and they weren’t brought up in their culture. Lafontaine‘s brother also took his life when he was 45. She said it was because of the direct result of the trauma their mother had experienced and brought down through them.

Her mother, who was at a residential school for 14 years, was in her late 50s when she started being proud of her identity and culture.

Lafontaine, a Brunswick House First Nation member who’s been living in Timmins since 1995, says communities need to come together to raise awareness about residential schools through education, events, social media, word of mouth and reporting.

“My goal in life is to teach my grandchildren that it’s OK, things are moving forward, we’re learning and we’re healing, and we’ll do it together. That’s my message to everyone,” she said. “We should work together and understand each other and go through this healing as a nation.”

Fort Albany First Nation member Clara, who declined to say her last name, said she attended St. Anne’s residential school for three years. Her mother also went to the residential school.

She said she has friends who didn’t know about residential schools until they were in their 30s.

“This is part of the history nobody is really aware of,” she said. “Learn what the event signifies, and learn about the history because many people don’t know.”

Mary Jane Hookimaw brought her two grandchildren to the walk. She said she told them about residential schools and they know about the 215 unmarked graves found in Kamloops, B.C. They ask her questions but it can be challenging to explain the issue in a kid-friendly language, Hookimaw said.

“I told them about the survivors, how they lived there every day from when they were young to when they were maybe 16, how there was torture,” she said. "When you're in school like that, being treated like when they were young, it really does something to you, like damage inside."

A 24-hour national residential school crisis line to support former students and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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