As a young boy Chief Terry Paul promised himself the residential school system wouldn’t hold him down
We all remember the devastating news that began more than two years ago in the spring of 2020, that hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children had been found at former sites of residential schools across Canada.
During those dark and sad days (that continue), many indigenous peoples across the northern part of Turtle Island began to share with all Canadians their stories about their experiences at residential schools. The leadership within indigenous communities called on us to listen, to learn, and to understand the past so that we can begin to appreciate the long-lasting trauma caused by the residential school system and its impacts on today’s indigenous peoples.
Membertou’s Chief Terry Paul was among those leaders.
In Wentworth Park on July 1, 2020, after marching from Sacred Church in Sydney, about 2,000 people gathered to honour and remember victims and survivors of the residential school system during The Walk to Remember. Chief Paul was one of several speakers.
It is with his permission that The Third is re-publishing Chief Paul’s speech. We decided to do so because when Chief Paul speaks, we tend to tune in. It is so powerful and tells his story of truth and his route to reconciliation for both him and his people. It also speaks to Tanya MacVicar’s column (on the previous page) and her perspective on the long-time chief.
Former residential school students can call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.
Indigenous peoples across Canada can also go to The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for counselling and crisis intervention.
"For many, recent news of the uncovering and recovering of our children has shocked them deeply. But for me, and all other survivors of residential school, it is a resurgence of painful emotions that we’ve lived and managed since the day we left the schools.
Each and every day of my life for the last nearly 40 years as Chief of Membertou, I have carried the memories of the fiveyear-old boy who went to Shubenacadie Residential School all those years ago.
I remember each child having their head shaved as they entered the facility; every child was assumed to have head lice. I remember spoiled food served for meals, and I remember being far away from my family for long periods of time. I attended residential school for 4 years, and those years undoubtedly shaped me.
As I grew, I promised myself that my experiences at residential school would not hold me down. I would not allow the painful times in my life to define the possibility of what I could be, or do. I wanted better for those who came after me. A driver for my vision behind building Membertou, has been creating a vibrant place for our children to grow, to run, to play.
We built our school in Membertou to ensure that our children could grow with the freedom and joy to be themselves as proud Mi’kmaq. It’s important that we all acknowledge the true history of our nation. This country’s history with Indigenous people is dark. But, now we have an opportunity for our communities to step forward and have our stories and voices heard, so that we can all move ahead, together. I am moved by the incredible amount of support our communities have received from allies, who have spread the colour orange across Canada.
Like any movement in history, it takes unwavering allyship to move underrepresented people ahead. Wela’lioq to our allies. To my community, and Indigenous people across the country. This is our moment to stand firmly on OUR land, and share OUR truth. The ripple effects of residential schools are still felt today. We must come together and heal for the next seven generations.
We have been through so much, and together we will walk this horrific road to justice. And to the five-year-old little boy who couldn’t imagine what was ahead, all those years ago, I say… “You are safe. You are strong. And, someday your community will change the game.” - Chief Terry Paul