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Statement-gathering still available for residential school survivors
One month after Truth and Reconciliation, stories can still be told

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, August 4, 2011

In a small office with two windows, Sheila Mazhari sits listening to residential school survivors retelling their story.

NNSL photo/graphic

Sheila Mazhari will continue to collect statements from residential school survivors and other Canadians, even though the Truth and Reconciliation Commission left Inuvik one month ago. - Samantha Stokell/NNSL photo

There is a lamp, a box of tissues, a wooden basket, stones and flower petals as well as a video camera and her work desk. The vents are blocked, the door is closed and the window to the hallway is covered, ensuring complete privacy for those people still sharing their experience about residential school.

One month after the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Inuvik, people still have the opportunity to put what happened to them on the record and make it a part of the history of residential schools.

"It's good that I'm still here," Mazhari said. "There was no way to get to everybody and there are so many stories that people have to say."

Mazhari, a TRC statement gatherer working with the Gwich'in Tribal Council, will stay in Inuvik until October to make sure everyone has a chance to speak when they are ready. She will also travel to the Gwich'in communities and possibly Tuktoyaktuk to record stories from survivors in those communities.

What she's heard so far are mixed messages about the national event. People felt the it didn't meet expectations or solve problems stemming from residential school. Instead, it just brought up more feelings and memories. She thinks it's good to talk about the past events, no matter how hard it is to do.

"In a more oppressive environment, they would have been silenced," Mazhari said. "It's nice to have the freedom to talk about it even though everybody didn't have the chance to talk."

While other communities in the territory had hearings with a Truth and Reconciliation commissioner, Inuvik didn't have that chance so people may not have shared their experience.

John Banksland, member of the TRC's survivors committee and a resident of Inuvik, thinks there will be a stronger push from survivors to continue the commission and maybe even bring back formal hearings for those that didn't share at the national event.

"It's not the end of it yet," Banksland said. "For the North, it's sort of at a crossroads. If any survivors want to do something about their experience, they'll have to get organized. They can still get a commissioner to come back."

Aside from gathering statements, another mandate for the national event is to educate non-aboriginals and non-survivors about the history and impact of residential schools. Banksland hopes those people learned a lot during the event.

"During the opening ceremonies, with my (five-year-old) grandson, I brought him up on stage and it was very hard to do. A lot of survivors out there really took it hard," he said. "Survivors know how old they were when they went to school. I did that for the benefit of non-survivors.

"The TRC was trauma-saturation, four days of hearing everybody's stories," Mazhari said. "It's easier to hear everyone else's story than think of their own."

Even people who didn't go to residential school can share their experience of being affected by it. Children or parents whose family members attended residential schools or workers at the residences or schools can provide a statement, as well as people who had good experiences in the schools.

"We want to get the whole picture, even if it was a regular experience," Mazhari said. "Everybody who is a Canadian citizen, this is the time to share."

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