“Many of us were damaged in many different ways,” said Chief Wilton Littlechild, who is also a commissioner to Truth and Reconciliation. “Either because of the sexual abuse, the mental abuse or physical abuse. In many ways you become damaged and inevitably you pass that on to your family and to your children.

“So what can we do about that as a nation and in a good way that we can say ‘this shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t happen again’ but in order for it to not happen again what can we do together to build a better country, to build a better Canada?”

The residential schools were government funded but ran by churches, housing Aboriginal children, taken from their parents at a very young age.

It’s a truth about Canada that has always been kept under the rug until recent years. It has been estimated that more than 150,000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their homes and usually against their parents will. The children at these schools were forbidden to speak their language, practice their religion or do anything that was related to their heritage.

For those who disobeyed, it often resulted in brutal physical, mental and sexual abuse from those who ran the residential schools.

Raymond Baptiste, born in Wetaskiwin 1951, was taken away from his family at a very young age and was forced down the path of corruption and narcotics.

“These school’s took us away from our mothers and fathers,” said Baptiste. “They failed to provide us with the parental guidance that a young child needs and they force feed us their religion.”

...Littlechild explained that it was the government’s way to “civilize” and “Christianize” the people and it is the root cause for the social problems that still plague the Aboriginal community today.

However, the Government of Canada has taken small steps to rebuilding their relationship with the Aboriginal community, starting with a public apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is just another step towards building a stronger relationship.

“I was so encouraged a couple of months ago when Wetaskiwin had an event,” said Littlechild. “At the function I spent the day discussing building bridges through reconciliation in Wetaskiwin and the citizens really came together under their leaders, especially by the leadership of the mayor, to teach people what really happened in these schools.

“This is about healing, us as individual survivors. Then help our family heal and through that, our community.

“I’m so happy of the turnout here and the vast majority of non-aboriginals who are here to learn about the history and listen to the stories from former students. It’s very encourage.”

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