The federal government raised the Survivors’ Flag on Parliament Hill today as a way to honour Indigenous people forced to attend residential schools.
Survivors of residential schools from across the country attended the event, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal.
Several residential school survivors spoke about the significance of the flag, including Jimmy Durocher, a Métis survivor who attended St. Bruno’s boarding school in Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask.
“Today we raise the Survivors’ Flag high over these colonial buildings, where lawmakers are now listening to our truths and seeking to work together towards reconciliation,” Durocher said.
In her remarks, Scott asked elected officials to take a moment while going about their work to pause when they see the flag.
“Pause and reflect about the truth that still remains to be told and about the hard work that still must be done,” Scott said.
‘An expression of remembrance’
Trudeau called residential schools a “shameful” part of Canadian history and said the Survivors’ Flag would serve as a way for Canadians to remember what happened at the government-funded, church-operated institutions over more than a century.
“This flag is an expression of remembrance,” Trudeau said.
“It is meant to honour all survivors and all the lives through the generations that have been, are being, and will continue to be impacted by the residential school system.”
The flag was designed in consultation and collaboration with survivors, with each element of the design approved by the group that was consulted.
The elements include a depiction of a family with seeds beneath them meant to represent the spirits of children who never returned home.
Eugene Arcand, a Cree survivor who attended St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask., spoke about Canadians’ shared responsibility to further reconciliation efforts and urged people to get to know survivors.
“There aren’t many of us left,” Arcand said.
“Take an opportunity to meet us. Know who we are.”
Last year, ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools, sparking efforts to remember survivors.
The flag will remain raised on Parliament Hill until 2024, when a decision will be made on its permanent home.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or 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.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.