'Deaf on this side because of all of the slappings': Residential school survivors speak at Prince Albert vigil

A group of drummers from Wahpeton Dakota Nation took part in a vigil hosted by the Prince Albert Grand Council on June 29, 2021. (Jayda Taylor/CTV Prince Albert)

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) held a vigil on Tuesday night to remember Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

About 100 people gathered at city hall, following recent findings of 751 unmarked graves in Cowessess First Nation and 215 at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

“It has triggered a lot of the survivors,” said Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, a survivor himself.

“It’s important that we come together. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Hardlotte said the unmarked graves have sparked non-Indigenous people to learn about residential schools and listen to the stories of survivors.

“It’s intergenerational trauma. It is a crime against humanity, that’s what it is. It’s genocide, and there was always that word genocide, but nobody believed it. Now, again I’ll say, the evidence is there.”

Hardlotte was one of several speakers at the vigil. It also included Elder Leonard Ermine, who took part in smudging with anyone who wanted to learn about the ceremonial practice.

Ermine, also a residential school survivor, spoke about his experience.

“I’m deaf on this side because of all of the slappings I used to get from the priests and the nuns,” he said.

“Things could never, ever replace my eardrum. A number could never replace my name.”

Sheryl Kimbley organized the event. Speaking to media before the vigil started, she said both of her parents are residential school survivors.

“I have no problem coming out and saying that I’m a 53-year-old woman and I’m already having celebrated 30 years of sobriety,” she said, explaining that the trauma gets passed down through generations.

“A lot of the brothers and sisters that we see wandering around the streets, people that we think are bothersome have traumas that most of us would never even wish on anyone.”

MORE CALLS TO CANCEL CANADA DAY CELEBRATIONS

The PAGC has cancelled plans to celebrate Canada Day in response to the unmarked graves found at former residential school sites.

Hardlotte asked other Canadians to do the same, and instead use Jul. 1 to mourn and grieve the children lost.

“This is the time we need to step back and think about the colonial history of Canada,” he said.

“We need to honour the children who never came home, and this is the time to rethink the damaging effects of the residential schools. Instead of joining in the festivities, we are urging

If you are a residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.