Barrhaven United Church remembers Boys’ Industrial Residential School in Spanish, Ontario

Report by Bonnie Dillon, Barrhaven United Church

The Barrhaven United Church (BUC) Project of Heart was inspired by Wendy Trower from Kitchissippi United Church in Ottawa and coordinated by Bonnie Dillon, a member of the church. A committee was formed and BUC chose to commemorate the Indigenous children who died at the Boy’s Industrial Residential School in Spanish, Ontario because several church members had been to Wikwemikong Reserve on Manitoulin Island and knew a residential school survivor from Spanish. As other United church run schools in Ontario had already been commemorated and this school was within driving distance, we felt that researching the only Jesuit-run Indian residential school in Canada would be of interest to the Barrhaven and surrounding community. There were 30 participants including a residential school survivor, a Haitian of Aboriginal descent, as well as representatives from Barrhaven United Church, different area churches and Christian faith groups including the Kateri Native Ministry of the Roman Catholic tradition.

After circle introductions, Ed Bianchi of Kairos opened the workshop with the Blanket exercise, providing the historical background leading up to the Residential schools, the treaties, the Indian Act and the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights, which Canada had not signed at that point. During the second night participants signed a petition in support of the UN Declaration and the following Friday, Nov. 12, 2010, Prime Minister Harper formally endorsed it with the UN. Participants also presented research on various Aboriginal personalities who have or are contributing to Canadian society and who came from reserves in Ontario and Quebec to Spanish for their Catholic education.

The second night we decorated the tiles, pictorially commemorating the Aboriginal children who died at the Boy’s Industrial Residential School at Spanish ON. Bonnie Dillon provided detailed research on the life of the school and its residents, both teachers and students. The last night an Indian Residential School survivor and her daughter, Helen and Carol, joined us for the dedication ceremony lead by Algonquin Elder, Albert Dumont. He performed a smudging ceremony in the Sanctuary and encouraged us to support aboriginal healing and reconciliation by listening to the stories, understanding issues of concern and visibly supporting our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. A potluck feast followed.

We thank Sylvia Smith for helping us with Project of Heart and guiding us into new learning and social justice action.

Ref.       The Jesuit Residential School at Spanish, “more than mere talent” by Shanahan, David, PhD, 2004; and  Indian School Days, by Johnston, Basil H. , 1988

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