Sometimes we need to tell our stories, even when doing so is going to hurt. We Were Children is a film that should not exist. It shouldn't exist because it shouldn't be necessary to tell these stories, stories filled with pain and horror, and most terrifying of all, truth. This film should not exist because these stories should not exist. What was done to the children in residential schools is abhorrent, unacceptable and, to many, unbelievable.
I have presented on residential schools to teachers who have refused to believe that this could happen and I have presented to many grade levels, two through twelve, with varying degrees of success. I watched "the Apology" with a senior Social Studies class and talked about the tears I couldn't hide with them. The apology may not have had any meaning to the government (as has been evidenced by the follow-up), but, for many, hearing the words meant something that day. I have been saddened and disappointed since, but hearing the words really clarified and articulated how big a wound that Canada had inflicted, not just on the survivor generations but on all of us. I don't think Mr. Harper realized that, at the time or since.
The residential school system was part of a larger plan to assimilate the First Nations into the larger body politic. At its height, there were eighty schools operating across Canada, the last one closed in 1996, in Saskatchewan. There were schools in BC into the 1980s.
We Were Children is a powerful film, it was hard to watch. Even knowing a lot of stories going into it, I found myself getting angry and tearing up and feeling incredibly sad. I tried to watch it at first, as an Academic, objectively, but in my studies, I have always maintained that objectivity is impossible and it was here. The stories of Lyna Hart and Glen Anaquod were real and heartbreaking. Their stories are stories that can be found in the words of 150 000 others, 80 000 of whom still live, and can be reflected in the stories of their children and grandchildren, whose own challenges and struggles can be seen as part of the legacy of the residential schools.
The film only touches on the stories of the lost, the ones that didn't get to leave, never had the opportunity to grow up. Their stories are still waiting to be told.
As a filmmaker, it is a film I wish I could have made but I know I could not have made it. As a teacher I am grateful it exists and I am contemplating how to use it in the classroom or to show to other teachers. As a First Nations man, I hope every Canadian sees it and learns about our shared history.
Please check out www.wewerechildren.ca or www.trn-en.ca for more information on the film and residential schools. Please check out my post