A key part of our renewal has been coming to terms with and healing from the wrongs experienced by our people over several generations. In many ways we were treated like second class citizens in our own land. We were isolated from our culture and heritage, and our families were torn apart through the forcible removal of our children to residential schools and adoptive homes. We are working to foster healing and reconciliation on many levels and for all ages.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in residential school survivors formed a support circle to work on their own healing. They called themselves K’änӓchá, meaning “Taking care of ourselves.” Thus began many years of counselling, outreach, growing stronger and supporting others. During meetings, the group compiled stories, photos and archival documents to create a scrapbook that encompassed their history, experiences and hopes for the future.
In 2007, the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre hosted a national exhibit on residential schools and at the opening honoured the residential school survivors, formally welcoming them back into the community. After a season on display, the scrapbook was made into a publication, Tr’ëhuhch’in Näwtr’udäh’ą: Finding Our Way Home. Hundreds of these books have been donated to First Nations healing centres, jails and friendships centres to share these important stories and inspire others.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in has taken a lead role in developing a territory-wide curriculum to tell the stories of the residential school experience. We are working with survivors and using their scrapbook to recount this difficult subject to students in a respectful, positive and accurate way. It is important to survivors that their families know the ways in which residential schools have affected them. An inter-generational group has formed; these people did not attend residential school but have been dealing with its impacts. One of their projects has been creating short films which will be used in schools.
In spring 2013, Robert Service School hosted a Truth and Reconciliation ceremony. The title says it all, “Acknowledging the Past, Celebrating the Present, Moving Forward in Unity.” All gathered in a circle to witness the reading of the Canadian government’s apology to residential school survivors and their families. They then watched a school-produced video celebrating all of its First Nation-themed activities and the Hän flag was raised to fly alongside the national and territorial flags. This ceremony, the first in the Yukon, was a most positive and uplifting event.
Gerald Isaac, Roberta Joseph and ?? looking at the scrapbook, May 2007. David Neufeld photo
Scene from the Welcome Home ceremony at Dänojà Zho. David Neufeld photo