Transcript: Christi Belcourt, Artist
Christi Belcourt: (In native language). I want to say first of all thank you, Madeleine, for your very beautiful words and your generous things that you had to say about me. I want to thank the elders, Annie St. George, Rita Gordon and Sally Webster for opening the ceremony that we're in right now. I would like to acknowledge all the elders who are here and the carriers of sacred items.
I would like to acknowledge and thank all of the residential schools survivors who are here. I want to thank the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, thank you. The members of the selection committee, I thank you very much for this great honor. To Andrew and Wanda at Vision Art, you have turned this, my design into this beautiful piece of glass and I think that you couldn't have done a better job. In fact, you probably improved the design. You're very talented and it was a pleasure working with you. Thank you to the staff at Aboriginal Affairs, you've been wonderful throughout. I sincerely want to thank the minister and the honorable speaker for this gesture towards reconciliation. It's my hope that this window will forever serve as a reminder of the vibrancy and brilliant – and resiliency of our people.
The stories of residential school students were never heard in this building, so I'm going to tell you one now. Because there's another person I need to thank and that is Lucille Kelly-Davis from Onigaming First Nation in Treaty 3. When I made the decision to accept the invitation to submit a design for this window, one of the first things I did was give tobacco to her. (In native language). I asked Lucille who is a residential school survivor what she wanted to see on the window. I had assisted her through the residential school settlement process and like so many survivors, her story is horrific.
When she received her settlement money, she gave it away because she said it made her feel dirty. I've seen this time and time again in the community. It was traumatizing for her to have to speak towards what she experienced as a small child in front of the adjudicator. She says no amount of money will ever erase what I went through. Lucille was eight years old when she was taken to residential schools. When she finally went home, she told her mother what happened. She says, "My mom was also raised in residential schools. She loved us, but she wasn't able to hug us or say she loved us. She cried, but she told me not to speak about it every again. That was the last time I told anyone what happened to me."
When she was caught speaking her language in school, she was taken into what she called "the hole". It was a place where the nuns beat her up and dragged her into the basement and threw her in a small, dark room, with no light, damp walls, and she was stuck in there for she doesn't know how long, smelling the smell of urine and vomit. When she woke up, she was in the infirmary and this happened to her many times and worse, which I won't share because I know you all know already.
Lucille's mother, a residential school survivor herself, was helpless to defend her own children. Child after child, eight in all, were taken into the schools and when the day school opened, the youngest son was sent there where he experienced the same abuses that was yielded. Despite her childhood, she married, had four children and now has many grandchildren. At 60, she got her bachelor's degree at the university. She is a pipe carrier, attends traditional ceremonies and help younger people learn the traditions. She's a powerful Anishnabeg grandmother who is generous, loving, and caring and gives all she can to her community and her family. She is not a victim, but a survivor.
When I asked her what to put on the window, she said, "Tell our side of the story". She would have been within her full right to say "Make it about genocide" but she didn't. She said, "Make it about hope". Like many people, I have to be honest. I stand before you conflicted, because there is, as Cliff Standingready shared, "the very perpetuated denial that does not acknowledge the intergenerational effects of the pain that still exists." As he suggests, this window must be more than celebrating the apology and I know that I'm not alone is suggesting that while this window is extremely positive, the question remains what is being done for the people.
Many generations into the future, while MPs pass through this window, through the revolving doors of government, the multigenerational suffering caused by the schools continues. My partner Alo said a couple of days ago that this process, the apology, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the window, the settlement should not be the end of what is needed, but only the beginning. It's not about money; it's about doing what is right. It's about looking ahead as the name of the window says, giniigaaniimenaaning, looking to the future for those yet unborn.
Lucille told me at the outset to make it about hope. This window is dedicated to all residential school survivors and their family, those living and those who have passed on. This window is a commemoration that asks Canadians to remember all those children who never made it home, never spoke their languages again, who never made it back to their culture or communities. We must see this window and we must remember all of the children who were murdered and buried in unmarked graves at the schools, and those children who grew into adults but who never have found a voice for their pain. We must see this window as an acknowledgment of all the moms and dads who cried and panicked and worried and grieved in the pits of their stomachs for the loss of their children. This window is for all the children who never heard the words "I love you", (in native language), from their own parents.
Because she told me to make it about hope, what I've tried to show in the design is the positive things that I've seen in my life. Despite residential schools, children, adults and elders dance in full regalia in celebration of who they are as indigenous people. We see Métis youth learning fiddling and jigging with pride across the country. We see arenas full of Inuk elders drum dancing with little kids running around, speaking Inuktitut. We see whole communities coming together in times of joy and times of great grief. The lodges are growing, the traditional songs are being sung, the ceremonies are being taught and the ceremonies are still practiced.
I wish I could show the government that reconciliation has the potential to be so much more. I wish I could convince them that reconciliation is not an unattainable goal if there's the will and the courage to discard old paternalistic ways of thinking and of behavior. We need action and where we need action, don't meet us with silence. Where we need support, don't accuse us of being a burden. It doesn't serve anyone, it doesn't serve the country and it doesn't serve the future to put us down. We have emerged from generation after generation of assault to our sovereignty as nations and our dignity as human beings.
I wish I could speak to the hearts of MPs, whether Conservative or NDP or Liberal, and let them know that renewal and reconciliation can be found between aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada through the sustained wellness of generations of aboriginal people to come.
What we need is long-term and direct support for the families of survivors of the residential schools to address the intergenerational effects. What we need are Métis residential school survivors and day school survivors who were excluded from the settlement process to be treated justly and fairly. We need aggressive and sustained revitalization programs for our languages that were decimated by the residential school systems. We need devolution for the north and resource revenue sharing for the economic well-being and self-sufficiency of our communities long term. We need an inquiry and leadership by government to address the epidemic of the 600 or more murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada and we need support for their families. We need equity in funding for our children.
As I said, we need sustained wellness for generations to come in our communities.
I'm grateful for this window. I know that this window, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the apology and the settlement have been positive steps. It will be a reminder for all that aboriginal people have survived the worst and we're still here. We owe our ancestors and all residential school survivors our deepest gratitude for their strength and resiliency. Because of their strength, we're able to say we're proud of our culture, our languages and our spirituality and we're getting stronger. I thank you very much and I'm deeply honored that you've given me this opportunity to speak.