Marlene Clifton says all Canadians need to learn the whole truth about residential schools. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Marlene Clifton says all Canadians need to learn the whole truth about residential schools. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Gitksan grandmother says Canadians need to face the whole truth about residential schools

‘If reconciliation is going to happen, they need to know the truth’

A sombre crowd of people gathered outside the Hulitan Family and Community Services Society in Langford on Monday to mourn the 215 children whose unmarked graves were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School last week.

Marlene Clifton, a Gitksan woman who led the group in song, said Canadians need to know the whole gruesome, painful truth.

“If reconciliation is going to happen, they need to know the truth,” she said. “And they need to know all the details, not just the sugar-coated shit they’re going to try to put out there.”

Clifton grew up outside of Prince Rupert “over the ocean and on the opposite side of the tracks,” at a time when she remembers not being allowed into the white part of town. As an Aboriginal support worker in the public school district, she taught the students what really happened and doesn’t agree that truth should be “age appropriate.”

“I say to the young ones, I know you have a sibling in Grade 3, imagine not being allowed to talk to them? A lot of the students were East Indian or from different countries, so imagine not being allowed to speak your language? Imagine being beaten, or made to stand for hours, or having salt put on your tongue? That’s what our people went through. That’s how they were treated.”

READ MORE: B.C. must do more for Indigenous reconciliation after residential school deaths: First Nation MLA

“And the kids, they get it. They get how wrong it is, they see it,” Clifton said.

“They need to know the truth. They need to know what happened.”

There’s no healing without reckoning with what’s been done, Clifton said. Settler Canadians need to find out what happened and learn the whole truth.

“I made the mistake of going on Facebook and someone said, ‘Yeah, but how many of those children died of natural causes?’ Like, that doesn’t matter, that’s not the point. That person doesn’t get what happened there.”

Clifton’s older sisters were sent to residential schools. She remembers seeing her friends and older kids in tears as they left for school.

“I didn’t get it. I had no idea what was going on at those schools. I saw them getting onto trains and buses and thought you are lucky!”

A lot has changed since then, but still she guesses in maybe two generations Indigenous people will be seen as equals in this land.

“I will stand to acknowledge O Canada, but I won’t sing it. I’m not Canadian, I am a member of my nation, my country.”


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Marlene Clifton says all Canadians need to learn the whole truth of residential schools. She led a group of people in song in Langford to mourn the 215 children whose unmarked graves were found in May at a former residential school in Kamloops. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Marlene Clifton says all Canadians need to learn the whole truth of residential schools. She led a group of people in song in Langford to mourn the 215 children whose unmarked graves were found in May at a former residential school in Kamloops. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)