WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Mahingan Lamarr is used to spending hours, sometimes days, on most school assignments, but for a recent essay, words poured out quickly onto the page.
“Everything was flowing out as fast as it could,” said the Cree and Algonquin Grade 8 student at Queen Mary Elementary School in Hamilton.
His assignment given on Sept. 14 was to write a short opinion piece — 10 to 14 lines — about whether or not historical statues, like those of John A. Macdonald, considered to be an architect of Canada’s residential school system, should be taken down.
In all, it took him about 30 minutes to write.
The Macdonald statue in Hamilton was toppled after a rally and march on Aug. 14. Hamilton city staff say the statue remains in storage and its condition will be assessed before the city determines “next steps.”
But the question over the statue’s place in the city has an obvious answer for the 13-year-old Indigenous student.
“I would like for all the statues to come down because I feel bad for all my family members who died at residential schools,” Lamarr wrote.
“When the graves were found, I was in Ottawa and there were shoes on the steps of Parliament Hill. I was sad when I heard about the first 250 graves but when the bodies kept getting found, it was hard to hear,” the paper reads.
“I have a strong dislike for him because I come from two reserves. Both of my reserves have family who died … being a 13-year-old with siblings, I could not imagine waking up and my brother being gone.”
WATCH | Mahingan Lamarr reads his paper about John A. Macdonald statues:
Lamarr’s teacher, Courtenay Fleet, said she thought his letter was “moving.”
“I think it’s important [that] education is relevant and we find current events in the community for students,” she said.
Tristan Maclaurin, resource co-ordinator with the Coalition of Hamilton Indigenous Leadership, said it’s important to hear from an Indigenous teen’s perspective on statues and residential schools.
“The effects of this are still being felt and will continue to be felt,” said Maclaurin, who is a two-spirit Anishinaabe person from Fort William, Ont.
“We’ve had generations of kids who are growing up without the system and now we’re even getting generations of kids whose parents didn’t actually attend the systems, but they doesn’t mean the effects are any less brutal.”
Lamarr said he hopes his short essay can raise awareness about truth and reconciliation. He also hopes people observe the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday, also known as Orange Shirt Day.
“Orange shirt day is important to me because I have lots of family who went to residential schools and got culture wiped out of them … I want people to spread awareness about it,” he said.
“Wear an orange shirt, if you have any stories, tell your stories and be respectful to the people who were lost, the people who were traumatized and the people who were hurt by residential schools.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.