WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A Manitoba farmer known for his elaborate 10-acre corn mazes has set up a special display to pay tribute to victims of residential schools and an opportunity for people to learn more about the institutions.
Deer Meadow Farms owner Vince Rattai says this is the first time he’s used a maze to portray a human rights issue, but was moved by the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. in July.
“How do we respond to getting this kind of news? It’s actually shocking,” Rattai said on Saturday at the official opening of the maze.
“My heart — there’s an area where it sinks, it grips you and how do you respond? This was really our response, that we should do something.”
The Every Child Matters maze is Rattai’s attempt to help others like him who didn’t know the true history of colonization and residential schools to come to grips with that reality, he says.
“I’m your typical white guy, 55 years old. You have an idea in the back of your mind, and then all of a sudden you’re confronted with all of these realities you just didn’t know,” he said.
“I’m thinking other people who are like me don’t know all of this stuff.”
Deer Meadow Farms is located just east of Winnipeg on the corner of Springfield Road and Lorne Hill Road, near the Duff Roblin Park Reserve.
- Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves was just the tip of the iceberg, as there are now more than 6,000 graves discovered all across Canada.
“It’s through initiatives like this where our communities can collaborate and come together to create some understanding, create an opportunity of learning to bring everyone together,” he said.
“People need to know the reality of what had happened for generations to First Nations people. Literally three generations of people were subjected to residential school and the lasting impacts.”
Dumas wants Canadians to know that they were anything but schools.
“Residential schools were institutions of genocide. It wasn’t actually about learning. They were terrible places and people need to learn about them,” he said.
“It has a lasting impact and we all need to work together to figure out how we heal from it.”
The maze will hopefully be part of that, Rattai says.
“Here you’re going to have time to learn more. All of the things we have in the maze are designed to tell a story, educate people … I’m hoping people will learn, grow, and their attitudes will be changing.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.