Survivors of residential schools shared devastating stories of childhood trauma on the eve of the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation during a sombre ceremony on Parliament Hill on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later urged non-Indigenous Canadians to listen to the stories of survivors and to take responsibility in the greater mission of truth and reconciliation.
Canada will on Thursday mark its first official National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a new statutory holiday that was among the 94 calls to action recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It will be held on Sept. 30 annually.
Celine Thusky was among three survivors who shared stories at the Wednesday evening event.
She recounted in detail a forceful removal from her home community at the age of seven, and her adolescence spent at a residential school near Abitibi, Que.
WATCH | Residential school survivors, Trudeau speak:
Ottawa marks 1st National Day for Truth and ReconciliationResidential school survivors and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau honour the lives and communities affected by the residential school system in a ceremony on Parliament Hill on the eve of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 1:11:02
“We didn’t know where we were going,” said Thursky, who said she was loaded into a bus by RCMP officers and a priest who visited her home.
“I never had an opportunity to say goodbye to my mother.”
Thursky was forced to live at the residential school until age 16, where she witnessed the physical and sexual abuse of young children.
“Many witnessed their classmates and family members perish at residential school,” said Levinia Brown, another survivor.
“To my fellow survivors, I want you to know, I love you,” Brown added.
“And to my country, I pray for my country.”
The survivors delivered their remarks from a stage near Parliament Hill’s Centennial Flame, which has been encircled with children’s shoes since the early summer in honour of the recently discovered unmarked burial sites at former residential schools.
‘For all Canadians’
Trudeau spoke last and spent much of his time appealing directly to non-Indigenous Canadians.
He said the legacy of Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples is a burden that all Canadians must confront.
“Do not tell me, or try to explain, that the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is a day for Indigenous Canadians, it is a day for all Canadians,” Trudeau said.
“Take a moment to listen to the stories of a survivor, to an Indigenous elder who shares their perspective and their experiences in this country. And know that that story, their story, is your story as well.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and representatives from the other major parties also attended the ceremony.