South Peace News
About 100 people gathered in Grouard for a community walk Sept. 30 to commemorate the inaugural National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
The day and event were held to reflect on the tragic legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada.
Grouard Seniors’ Community Club and the High Prairie Municipal Library co-hosted the event for the new holiday that coincides with Orange Shirt Day that also recognizes impacts of residential schools.
“I’m amazed with the high number of people who came out,” says Candace Cardinal, Indigenous outreach program worker for the Peace Library System, who is based in High Prairie.
“It’s rightful to do a walk.”
Former residential school students, seniors, families and young children gathered at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church where the walk started and finished.
“I thought it would be a good idea to have the walk in Grouard and start at the church,” says Cardinal, who lives in Grouard.
The community is also the home of the former Grouard Indian Residential School, also known as St. Bernard’s Indian Residential School that operated from 1894-1957 by the Roman Catholic Church, according to National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Former residential student Henry Cardinal conducted a smudge and said a prayer before the walk started.
“It means a lot to me to be here,” says Cardinal, 81, who was a student at the Grouard residential school in the 1950s.
“We’re here to pray for the children who died and were abused as students,” Cardinal says.
He knows the experience first-hand.
“We were always abused as students,” says Cardinal.
“We could imagine what all the students in residential schools went through.”
Cardinal also remembers trying to help and protect other children from being abused.
His wife, Christine LeGrande, has similar stories with stronger details.
“I suffered the same abuse, says LeGrande, 68, a student from 1959-62.
“We were abused the same as any student who went to day school.”
She says the nuns did most of the abusing, physically.
“We were hit by a pointer if we tried to speak in our own language or if we didn’t sit properly,” LeGrande says.
Students were also hit on their legs if they didn’t keep standing straight during long prayers, she notes.
She welcomes the new special day.
“It’s about time a lot of this came out, about how students in residential schools were abused,” LeGrande says.
However, some former students may be reluctant to describe their unpleasant experiences that they would rather forget, as another woman suggests.
Priscilla Sutherland joined the walk to support former students and their families who have been affected.
“There are a lot of people who still haven’t shared their stories,” says Sutherland, whose father was a residential school student.