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From Wawmeesh's notebook 

Hi, <<First Name>>. After months of planning, my story about reconciliation in small Canadian towns is finally moving forward. It centres on this question: What’s different about reconciliation in small towns versus large cities?

Earlier this year in my hometown of Port Alberni, city councillors voted against renaming a street whose namesake was a former MP who was pro-Japanese internment, anti-Asian immigration and worked as an Indian agent. At the same time, places like Vancouver and Victoria bill themselves as cities of reconciliation, devoting resources to various initiatives that aim to improve relations with Indigenous communities. I thought: If this is how reconciliation looks in cities, then why is it different in small towns, like Port Alberni?

To determine which small towns I’d focus on for my investigation, I examined ones that used to have Indian residential schools, which were federally mandated and located in every province except P.E.I. While using an interactive map on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website, I noticed a trend. The map has a sliding bar timeline; as you move it to the right, the number of red squares (which represent residential schools) begin to disappear, denoting closures. Most schools shut down between the mid-1970s and early-1980s. Almost all closed by the 1990s. Interestingly, Saskatchewan showed the highest number of schools still open after most in other provinces were already shuttered. Do you know what happened there politically, socially, economically, religiously or otherwise that explains this? Press reply and let me know. 

A thousand words

During my research, I experienced a moment that will stay with me for all of my days. While scrolling through residential school images on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website, I found one of my father when he was attending the Alberni Indian Residential School. It was a group photo with other students, and he appeared to be about 14 years old; like the other boys pictured, his expression seems forlorn and angry. I never knew my father. He died when I was 6. Yet, here I was, looking at him when he was confined in residential school during Indigenous peoples' darkest era. That my father went there isn’t a surprise, but his expression still resonates with me. I’ve seen that same look in hundreds of other photos of kids attending residential schools: No one's smiling — and why would they?

Have any story tips? Message me via Facebook, Twitter or email. And if you liked reading this, please tell your friends to subscribe.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of reconciliation, 
Wawmeesh

Snapshot

My father Clifford Hamilton (back row, centre) when he attended the Alberni Indian Residential School. (Credit: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation)

ICYMI

  • You didn’t have to go to residential school to suffer from the effects of it. In this study, researchers Roberta Stout and Sheryl Peters examine the intergenerational impacts on professional First Nations women whose mothers attended residential school.
  • If you only have one minute to spare, take a moment to watch this Heritage Minute about Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who ran away from residential school in Kenora, Ontario, during the winter of 1966 to try and see his father 1,000 kilometres away. Chanie’s story tells those of many others.  
  • Do you know a high school student who may be interested in starting a reconciliation initiative? This guide is a simple, but effective, starting point.
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