Presentation to Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Victor Kisoun, Member of the Lower Post Residential School Survivors Working Group
Whitehorse, YK – May 26, 2011
My name is Victor Kisoun, I am a member of the Kaska Dena Nation and I live in Lower Post, British Columbia.
I am a member of the Lower Post Residential School Survivors Working Group and we have submitted a proposal to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee for a regional commemorative event to be held in Lower Post.
My father attended the Lower Post Residential School and is a survivor.
As you know, Lower Post Residential School was attended by thousands of members from the Kaska Dena, Tahltan, and Taku River Tlingit First Nations and other First Nations along the Alaska Highway and within the Yukon. The school still stands today as a painful reminder.
Recently, leaders of the three northern nations of BC (Tahltan, Taku River Tlingit and Kaska Dena First Nations) held a workshop to discuss ideas to bring recognition and closure to the significant social, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual adverse effects brought on by the Lower Post Residential School.
The Lower Post Residential School experience dramatically changed the lives of First Nation peoples. Like all the other residential schools across this country, it hit the First Nations like a Tsunami, ripping apart the cultural fabric of our society- it devastated us, and we are still dealing with the aftermath today.
It caused social, physical, mental and spiritual devastation which still plagues us today and has perpetuated a victimology mentality. These affects continue to be seen in our communities today in the form of:
- High rates of premature deaths due to suicide, alcohol related accidents and illnesses;
- Sexual, physical and mental abuse;
- Substance abuse;
- Hopelessness; depression;
- Loss of culture and identity;
- Loss of parenting skills;
- Family and community dysfunction.
A reconciliation event needs to take place in Lower Post at the site of the residential school that many First Nations from the Yukon, BC and Alaska border attended, because elements of the school still stand today. It is a constant reminder of the trauma and abuse that was experienced by many of our people. Many will not enter the building or enter the community because of the pain and memories that are associated with the school.
The proposed Truth and Reconciliation Regional Event is critical for the survivors and their children to bring a sense of closure to this terrible and sad chapter in all our lives.
We recognize that this event will be a monumental step in the healing journey that is a lifelong process.
There is much to be learned from the South African Reconciliation experience where the victims sat with their perpetrators so that the perpetrators could attest to their crimes and apologize to their victims, taking ownership for their violations. Only the victim can truly forgive the perpetrator and release them from their guilt. It brought a divided Nation, a Nation that was on the verge of civil war that would have totally wiped out the white population, to a Nation that has come together in healing, reconciliation and unity.
The Canadian reconciliation will not be the same as the South African experience, but we can learn from the process that Mandela and his people went through. We believe that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has an opportunity to make a major contribution to the healing of our people, communities and Nations. To achieve that, the Commission must listen to us, and must respect OUR priorities as to how this healing process is to be conducted.
We want to be understood with respect to what we feel we need for healing and reconciliation. It is time for the First Nations to begin healing and to take their rightful place in Canada and in Society.
We envision the regional commemorative event at Lower Post to bring First Nations, government and Church representatives together in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation so that we can begin to move forward together today for the survivors, for their children.
In closing, we would like to reinforce to the Commission that for true reconciliation, we need to confront the dark ghost of our past and hold the event on the site where these atrocities were committed upon our people. Because not only do we need to heal ourselves, but heal the land.
Remnants of the Lower Post Residential School still stands today. This building needs to be torn down and a new cultural centre needs to be built. The grounds need to be cleansed by our elders. Government representatives and officials of the church need to stand before us at the site in Lower Post and tell us what they did was wrong.
Many of our community members have not appeared before you in Watson Lake or here in Whitehorse because they firmly believe that the only true reconciliation of the damage that was done at the Lower Post Residential School can only happen in Lower Post, the site of the cultural genocide inflicted upon our people.
Thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation on behalf of the Lower Post Residential School Survivors Working Group. We look forward to having members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission present in Lower Post at our Regional Event.