Cycle of abuse stemming from residential schools to be discussed at Truth and Reconciliation events at UFV
An archival photo of the St. Mary's residential school for First Nations children in Mission.
Photograph by: Mission Community Archives, Mission Historical Society
As a child, Vancouver Aboriginal educator Dallas Yellowfly recalls hearing the story of a wild woman who lurks in the forest ready to snatch children.
It’s a traditional First Nations story used to discourage children from wandering. Sadly, it’s more than allegorical.
In a very real way, it came to pass, when an estimated 150,000 First Nations children were ripped from families, sent to residential schools, stripped of their language and culture and often abused.
“The story of the wild woman is the segue into the real story of the Indian agents who would take children to residential schools,” Yellowfly explained.
On Wednesday, the public school cultural facilitator will re-enact that story at the University of the Fraser Valley’s Indian Residential Schools Day of Learning. His presentation includes a theatre piece, “Qualena”, plus testimony from two survivors of St. Mary’s residential school in Mission — Cyril Pierre and Joe Ginger — detail the abuse they endured and what they’ve had to go through for compensation.
Yellowfly knows firsthand how that trauma persists today.
His father, an Albertan of Blackfoot heritage, was sent to residential school at age six. The experience scarred him and he turned to substance abuse and crime. Yellowfly’s mother, a criminology student, met his father while he was in prison. They married and had Dallas, but his father hit him as an infant so his mother severed ties.
Yellowfly healed his wounds by learning about his culture and teaching the legacies of residential schools.
“It’s creating this horrible cycle of abuse,” said the UFV graduate. “There are generations of broken families disconnected from their culture and traditions and ashamed of who they are.”
UFV’s program runs at the Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission and Hope campuses, and is free and open to the public.
UFV Indigenous Studies professor Wenona Victor said in a statement the university had a responsibility to engage.
“There is a misconception out there that this is only First Nations history. It is part of Canadian history,” Victor said.
More than 130 residential schools operated across Canada from 1875 to 1996. Two were in the Fraser Valley: Coqualeetza in Chilliwack and St. Mary’s in Mission.
The UFV event coincides with the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the Pacific National Exhibition Sept. 18-21. That four-day event is an opportunity for survivors to share experiences.
For a schedule of UFV events visit: UFV.ca/day-of-learning
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