Coming back to love: Honouring residential school warriors

‘A legacy of cultural and social disruption that continues to reverberate’
Photo: Irina Iriser
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This week we marked Orange Shirt Day to honour residential school warriors who were kidnapped from their families and shipped sometimes thousands of miles away. Some of the children who attended the schools made it home, but thousands perished in these institutions.

This violent human rights violation has left a legacy of cultural and social disruption that continues to reverberate in our communities and families today. This attack against our families and children was perpetrated for no other reason but because of our beauty and grace as Indigenous peoples living who we are. It is a story about how the “great frontier” was built on the backs and loss of life of Indigenous peoples, which included little children whose resilient spirits experienced unimaginable violence. I extend my love to you today, along with thousands of others. I honour your strength, resiliency, and hearts today.

There is no reconciliation without justice.

I also honour parents who had their children kidnapped and taken to residential schools. I have heard countless stories about the heartache parents felt each September when our communities fell silent. There was no more laughter and play to be heard from our children. It was a deafening silence. I honour your stories today and all the stories of residential school warriors and their children. There is no reconciliation without justice, which includes implementing and legislating the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We are still here in all our kindness, resiliency, and love, like my partner, Romeo Saganash, as we figure our way forward, learning how to love and trust in a relationship. Colonization made relationships messy, but we move forward with understanding, love, and compassion, embracing our personal resilience, strength, and determination as we fight for a better world. This has included travelling across the country fighting for Romeo’s Bill C-262, the Indigenous Human Rights Act, to legislate the full adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I was touched by a story Romeo told me almost five years ago about how for over 20 years, he would frequent the local flower shop every Saturday in Quebec City to buy flowers up until the 2011 election, when he informed the flower-shop owner that he was moving [because he won his seat] and wouldn’t be by for flowers. She said, “Oh, that’s too bad. I am sure she will miss getting flowers,” to which he replied, “Those flowers are for me. Nobody has ever bought me flowers.” The store owner was so touched she cried, and so did I upon hearing that story. “I will always buy you flowers,” I offered. I have kept that promise. Flowers give him joy. I also accompanied this gesture with a poem that I published to share the love I have for him.

He said he never received flowers
A blossomed heart
An orchard to be cherished

Behind walls
That grew weeds of genocide
There were no flowers

They had no flowers
For an artist's spirit
Whose creativity was born out of kindness

He said he never received flowers
A spirit so worthy to be embraced
By kindness and love

So here is your flower
Let the smells fill your room
With the beauty of your sacred heart

I extend my love to my partner, my relatives, friends, all the residential school warriors that I have not had the honour to know, and residential school attendees who never made it home from these schools. Here is your flower. Let the smells fill the room with the beauty of your sacred heart.

This opinion piece is an expanded version of remarks delivered in parliament on September 30, 2020.
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