OTTAWA—Residential school survivors complained of not being given a chance to speak yesterday at an event marking the 10-year anniversary of Canada's apology in the House of Commons.
Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett gave a speech at the Canadian Museum of History to mark 10 years since the previous Conservative government issued a formal apology for residential schools—but she quickly was overshadowed by survivors who felt compelled to share their experiences.
Survivors Peter Sackaney and his sister, Vivian Timmins, took the stage just before elders were expected to deliver a closing prayer.
As a boy in residential school, Sackaney said he was ordered not to speak—a memory that came to him as he listened to Bennett's remarks.
“I said, 'No, no, no, I want to get up and say something because I'm no longer that little boy. I'm a man,'” he remarked.
The event at the museum, hosted by Bennett's office and organized by the Legacy of Hope Foundation, included a healing ceremony, remarks by Bennett and others, and the unveiling of a new art exhibit that pays tribute to survivors.
During the healing ceremony, Sackaney said, he had an urge to say, “I'm hungry”—something he had been forbidden from expressing at school.
“They starved me,” he noted.
“Always, always when it comes to honouring [survivors] of residential schools: put them up here—let people see they're real.”
Timmins took aim at the event itself, saying she only learned about it on Friday—and that other survivors likely would feel excluded from the formalities.
“Why was this done last-minute? Why wasn't it planned?" she asked. ”Why weren't we aware of any of this?
“Where are all of the survivors?”
A spokesperson for Bennett said her office was not responsible for organizing the event at the museum, and that the department had been in touch with partner organizations for about two months in advance of a second event that took place yesterday in the Commons' foyer.
James Fitz-Morris also noted the entire schedule had to change late last week because the department wanted the events to take place later in the day—but then votes were scheduled.
Timmins gave an emotional account of her experience in residential schools, including being forced to eat her own vomit.
Students, including her, suffered physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural abuse, she said, calling residential schools a genocide.
“I was one of those survivors that was abused by a priest,” she noted.
“That kept me so quiet. I was so quiet and suffered on my own. I couldn't even talk to my brothers,” Timmins added.
“I couldn't even talk to my mom about that but now I'm going to talk about it.”
The pair later told The Canadian Press that they feel Justin Trudeau also should have been present.
“The prime minister should be here,” Timmins said as Sackaney nodded in agreement.
“It was a prime minister who apologized,” he noted, recalling how former prime minister Stephen Harper delivered the emotional apology in the House in 2008.
“It should have been a prime minister to carry it forward.”