Residential School Survivors sometimes just need each other
- By NC Raine | July 20, 2022
Organizers of a new Residential School Survivor gathering aim to create a safe and welcoming space for those dealing with past trauma.
Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway, co-founder of the Buffalo People’s Art Institute and event organizer, hosted the first gathering in Regina last October.
She felt compelled to do something for survivors after news of the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites broke and the first National Day of Reconciliation was observed in Canada.
The goal was to create an event where survivors could come together, not in celebration, but to just be with one another. The first event focused on ceremony and survivor stories, but the theme this time around was Healing through Art.
“I feel that sharing stories, visiting and making friendships and having a community that can help support you through your stages of healing or processing of news is very important,” said Tristen Durocher, who performed at the event. “A lot of Indigenous issues have been spotlighted in recent years by the media and it’s good that there’s more public awareness about them, but at the same time it opens up a lot of emotional wounds for Indigenous people. And for us to always have our trauma broadcast it’s hard to process.”
The Mackenzie Art Gallery partnered with the Buffalo People’s Art Institute and provided a space for the one-day event along with the promise to host another in October.
BigEagle-Kequahtooway recruited a couple of the province’s most popular Indigenous performers to help reinforce the idea that healing is possible through art.
Durocher, a fiddle player, photographer, writer and activist, shared music and light-hearted stories with those in attendance.
“Music has always been present in our communities and it’s important for our youth to still have access to our music and culture, because it helps bring forth healing,” he said. “I started fiddling when I was nine years old, so a lot of what I learned about my culture I learned through the spaces music allowed me to be invited into.”
He enjoys visiting different communities and hearing different people’s stories.
Durocher said the gathering served as a kind of reunion for him.
In the summer of 2020, he walked more than 600 kilometres to Regina and set up camp on the front lawn of the Saskatchewan legislature where he fasted for 44 days to raise awareness about youth suicide.
“A lot of the kokums here (at the gathering) were kokums that came to visit while my camp was happening in Regina, so they are familiar faces,” said Durocher.
He said it was great to sit and visit with all of them again.
GoldenEagle shared her own story of being a 60s Scoop survivor and reconnecting to her culture and community again and about the role art played in that healing journey.
After the entertainment and lunch participants had a private viewing of Radical Stitch, a beaded art exhibit.
The next event will take place again at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in October. The City of Regina and Reconciliation Regina were also sponsors of the residential school gathering and handed out small booklets that contain the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to action.