'It is Canada's History': winners of James Bartleman Indigenous Creative Writing Award reflect on residential school discovery

Two of the winning recipients from the James Bartleman Indigenous Creative Writing Awards are sharing their thoughts with CTV News Toronto on the disturbing discovery of 215 childrens’ remains at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

They are among six young Indigenous people recognized Friday for writing excellence as part of a virtual ceremony normally held at Queen’s Park. They also each received a cheque for 2,500 dollars.

The awards are named on behalf of Ontario’s first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor.

“It means more than you could ever know,’ Kaylem Daybutch, 20, said while accepting his award.

The story, written when he was 18, is about a young man with schizophrenia who finds solace in an imaginary woman, showing the joy in one’s life even with mental health struggles.

He’s now a third-year student at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie — the building itself is a former residential school.

“For me to digest something like this and about my own people, my family somewhere down the line has gone to residential schools, and I think the most difficult thing processing it is why haven’t we done this for every school still up,” he told CTV News Toronto in an interview Friday.

Daybutch said as horrifying as the truth is, it is Canada’s history.

“It’s in the roots, it’s the roots of Canada, whether you are Indigenous, white, Black, Asian, the point is if you’re walking on this country, you’re walking on the roots of trauma, you’re walking on the roots of blood that didn’t need to be shed,” Daybutch said.

Ariel Wendling, 19, won for her essay on the prevalence of mental health in everyday life and the need to share feelings and experiences. She said she’s internally grateful for the award.

Wendling said the burial grounds in Kamloops are sad, but she’s not surprised thanks to a high school teacher who taught her about residential schools.

“I think this has been attention on something that needed attention, so a lot of kids especially my age, even adults weren’t aware this was happening,” she said from Port Colborne, Ontario.

Wendling said she sees a connection between her essay and the survivors of the schools.

“I know a lot of people who have survived through these schools suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues and I think they do have a link,” she said. “I do believe they need more support.”