Chief Scott McLeod Shabogesic of Nipissing First Nation spent Canada Day at the ruins of the residential school in Spanish, Ontario, the facility that most local residential school survivors were forced to attend. Chief McLeod posted a video on social media of himself traversing the ruins of the St. Joseph’s girls school at the site, as well as the memorial of St. Peter Claver School for Boys, asking everyone who follows his page to take the day to reflect. The Spanish Indian Residential Schools operated from 1913 to 1965, one of the 130 such facilities in the country, and was operated by the Jesuits, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary and the Government of Canada.
The revelation of 215 unmarked child graves in Kamloops struck the people of NFN hard, and was further compounded as more graves continue to be discovered across the nation. It also created a shockwave as Canadians were obliged to face the realities of the foundations of the country. West Nipissing also responded with lowered flags, orange ribbons and memorials placed in front yards, and a very subdued Canada Day. Many citizens of West Nipissing have friends and relatives who are survivors, or they know of someone. The overwhelming feeling is one of sadness, along with the question of what can we, as neighbours and friends, do?
Chief McLeod was kind in his response, noting that he was pleased with the way people respectfully subdued Canada Day celebrations. The Tribune spoke to him on Friday, July 2. He said, “The first step is acknowledgment – when somebody is a victim of a crime or horrendous events they can’t move on to the healing if there is no acknowledgement or belief in what hap-pened. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday because a lot of people celebrate Canada Day and a lot of people consider Canada to be one of the best countries in the world, which generally speaking I do believe. But there are things that some people in this country are faced with that others aren’t. If we continue going along celebrating the ones who have something to cele-brate and leave behind the ones that are hurting, I don’t think that makes us a better country. Canada has the potential to be a much better country than it is.”
McLeod noted that the simple acknowledgement by so many Canadians is a huge step, adding that it is particularly hard for those who are enamoured of the “perfect life and how they came here and worked hard and achieved goals and a successful life” and then having their bubble burst. “To spoil that by having some truth out there about that, yeah, your hard work and all that made you successful, but it was on the backs of Indigenous people. I can understand why people don’t want to hear that. But the problem becomes that separation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous is not going to get any closer, that gap between us, if we don’t acknowledge these truths and find a path forward together rather than continuing with this lie that makes one side feel better. It’s a difficult thing and as Indigenous communities we know it’s difficult.”