For Roots & Wings

On January 11, Joanna Gierak-Onoszko, author of the book entitled The 27 Toby Obed’s  Death Cases. The author told the story of an Inuit who, along with approximately one hundred and fifty thousand other people belonging to the indigenous communities of Canada, was forced to leave his family and placed in a place called a boarding school. Toby Obeda is a survivor who was kidnapped from his family home as a child and molded into a new Canadian citizen in centers managed by the state administration since 1968 and run by consecrated people.

 He couldn’t speak his native language there or see his family. He had to change his traditional clothes to European ones. He had to work, eat food he was not used to, and was beaten. These centers operated in Canada until the 1990s. The last facility was closed in 1996. The author told the story of the public disclosure of the problem and paid particular attention to the role of individual people in this story. In 1990, Phil Fontaine was the first to talk about his experiences in such a center during a routine interview on CBC public television. Soon, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, three of whose members investigated the stories of almost seven thousand survivors. Burial places of deceased children were also found in several hundred centers, whose exhumation was demanded from authorities. Local residents themselves took the initiative to protect the traces and set up memorial lights themselves. Phyllis Webstad started the Orange Share Day movement. She wanted to commemorate the day of the beginning of the school year, which she associated with the trauma of anonymity and loss of identity. September 30 became a public holiday – the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. On this day, locally produced T-shirts with the slogan Every Child Matters are worn. Those interested participate in historical workshops demythologizing the history of Canada and numerous cultural events.

In 2017, there was a symbolic apology to the First Nations for their suffering from the then state authorities provided by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the presence of Tony Obed. In 2022, Pope Francis visited Canada and, by kissing the hand of one of the survivors, also apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church community to the cruelly treated indigenous people of Canada. Canadians also demand that the perpetrators of the system in which parents camped in teepees outside their children’s educational institutions and could never see them be held accountable. Some of the archives are located at the Vatican, so efforts to access the data are ongoing.

The story of Canada’s indigenous people does not end well. Adults today, completely separated from their loved ones in childhood, struggle with addictions and emotional problems. Reconciliation, however, gives them dignity and restores their self-confidence and revives their depreciated identity. Although emotionally and, like Tony Obeda, physically scarred, the indigenous people seem to be returning to real life. They can also be teachers for other nations of the world, and also for us how to talk about the past.

(text: Beata Ciacek; photos: Beata Ciacek)