Breaking the Silence and Embracing our Voices
- Alyson Bear | October 22, 2020
As I write this today on September 30th, Orange Shirt Day, I am thinking about what that means to me. The theme this month is role models, so I want to speak about mine, my grandmother Ruth Cameron. She is a role model in my life, in the community, and in Saskatoon.
When I think of her, I think of my children. My daughters are the same age as she was when they took her to Lebret Residential School, away from her family, community and cut her off from her language and culture. All of my other grandparents were also forced to attend residential schools and I do my best to honour them all in my life. I think of them often as I continue to work to give my daughters a life that they would have wanted. I try my best to walk a life they would be proud of. We have been silenced for many years, as have the truths and stories of the Residential School system.
The reserve system was designed intentionally and not by Indigenous people. Therefore it was a way to keep First Nations out of sight and out of mind. Silence fell upon Indigenous Nations when the children were stolen. Silence is what has been ringing in our ears as we sit in classrooms where they teach us about Columbus and John A. Macdonald and their “triumphs” in the name of attempts to displace and assimilate Indigenous peoples from our traditional territories and ways of life.
My grandma Ruth was one of the earliest to start trailblazing paths in colonial institutions and professions, helping others navigate these colonial systems. She worked hard within the Catholic School Board dedicating her life to helping others, despite everything she went through in residential school and dealing with the enduring effects. This type of selflessness is something I aspire to in my own life and it is something that comes, not from the trauma that has been injected into our bloodstream from the colonial mission of assimilation, but from our traditional Indigenous ways and kinship laws.
Some people do not understand that Indigenous people have had to face systemic discrimination. As Indigenous people, we have not been able to put down roots in cities and pass on generational wealth, land and property that is passed down in a lot of families where people have had opportunity. It becomes easier to get lost in these colonial concrete systems.
My grandma is my role model because she has showed me the way to live, thrive, survive, provide, and all while helping others. She is still on many boards including the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and is the Elder for Saskatchewan Polytechnic. She has accomplished so much and in a time when Indigenous peoples were heavily and openly discriminated against.
Systemic racism is still evident as seen in the recent injustice that happened to Joyce Echaquan. She was the Indigenous woman who was mocked and ridiculed while in the hospital seeking help. Before she passed away, she recorded the racist repulsive remarks the nurses made about her. This speaks volumes about the work that needs to be done to create safe spaces for Indigenous peoples and voices.
If racism is still so prevalent today, how much worse must it have been for my grandparents when they were children trapped in residential schools?