We Are All Treaty People

Treaty Elder Series held at St. Joseph Parish in Saskatoon: "It is an act of reconciliation itself to be here today"

  • Published - 09/03/2018
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  • Posted By - Kiply Lukan Yaworski
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Parishioners and visitors gathered in a circle at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall in Saskatoon after Sunday Mass Feb. 4, sharing soup and bannock, listening to the experiences and the wisdom of two Indigenous leaders.

Mike Broda of St. Joseph parish offered a traditional welcoming gift of tobacco to knowledge-keeper Lyndon Linklater and Elder Agnes Desjarlais, to open the gathering, part of a Treaty Elder Series in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. Linklater and Desjarlais both work at the Regional Psychiatric Centre, where they provide traditional ceremonies as a path of healing. Myron Rogal of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace also spoke at the gathering.

Linklater, who is also a member of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner’s Speakers Bureau, described his background and growing up years. Both of his parents – and their parents before them -- attended residential schools – his Anishinaabe (Ojibway) dad Walter Linklater in Ontario and later in Saskatchewan, and his Cree mother Maria in Saskatchewan, until she ran away from the school she hated, to be hidden and cared for by her grandmother.

“Like many, many First Nations people, we suffered as a result of impact from these residential schools,” Linklater said. “There is a common story that starts to emerge, when you talk to those who attended residential schools; when you talk to their children and grandchildren.” The aftermath has included damaged families and communities, addiction, and dysfunction.

“Today we recognize this illness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD,” said Linklater, noting that trauma will impact a person physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. “If you have PTSD, all these sociological factors will plague you,” he said. “And every single person that went to these residential schools -- they suffered from PTSD, in one form or another.”

Linklater described how his father was taught to reject his traditions, his language, and his identity, to the point where he did not even know that he was Ojibway.

Linklater also reflected on the profound damage caused by removing children from their families. “In the schools, they were so very lonely. I can’t imagine what it must have been like – to be five years old and your mom and dad aren’t there for you, to comfort you, to care for you, to nurture you,” he said.

“We know what it is like to have children, to have grandchildren, and how important it is to have young children feel loved. It is so critical, vital, imperative – if that child grows up without feeling loved, that child is going to be messed up when they get older.” And in Saskatchewan, residential schools were not around for just a few years, but for 122 years, he stressed. “So it is multi-generational.”

The Truth and Reconciliation process has offered a path of healing – for residential school survivors and their descendants who did not always even recognize this obstacle that has been in their path – and for the entire country, which made profound mistakes in its history, said Linklater.

“This is my Canada, this is your Canada, this is our Canada – Canada is the best place in the whole wide world, but it can even be better. And it is up to us as Canadians to make that happen,” he said. “How are we ever going to know where we are going as a country, if we don’t know where we have been? How are we ever going to know not to make the same mistakes, if we don’t even know we made mistakes in the first place?”

Linklater expressed appreciation for the parish event, noting that “for too long we haven’t been able to do this …. We talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 94 Calls to Action – you are doing it right now. You are actually participating in it right now.”

Recognizing the impact of residential schools, and coming to a better understanding of that trauma, has enabled many to walk on a long path of healing, including his own family, Linklater described. “What really, really helped us Linklaters, was that we found our culture, we went back to our traditions.”

Diversity is a gift from God, with peoples of many different appearances, languages and cultures worshipping one Creator, said Linklater, describing the many connections and commonalities between Christianity and Indigenous teachings.

“When I found my traditions, when I found my culture, oh my goodness, you would not believe the many similarities, unbelievable parallels,” he said of his own journey. “We have teachings in our culture to try and love one another, to try and work together, to try and get along with one another, to respect one another.”

Elder Agnes Desjarlais also spoke about trauma and healing. A member of the Muskowekan First Nation near Lestock, SK, Desjarlais and her parents attended Muscowequan Indian Residential School.

Even though there were some positive things about her school experience – she loved learning to read, for instance – the damage caused by the residential school system resonated in her family and community, with alcoholism and broken families. Desjarlais recalled the loneliness and fear of going to the school as a child of six, how students who spoke their own language were punished, and how everyone’s long hair was cut off.

The trauma described by Linklater was a reality, she agreed. “It is really true. That was something a lot of us went through – just being taken from our parents, our homes.”

Now the mother of eight, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of three, Desjalais said she found healing as an adult when she began to learn about her culture, and became involved in offering traditional teachings and ceremonies.

“Once I started attending some of the ceremonies, I started feeling better about myself and who I was,” she said. “A lot of my family, people where I am from, are really strong Catholics. We all have to learn to respect each other’s way – we all follow the same God.”

Today she offers traditional teachings and ceremonies to women incarcerated at the Regional Psychiatric Centre, and has found herself reflecting on how similar the prison system is to the residential school system. “A lot of the men and women there have parents and grandparents who went to residential school… it is just one big cycle.”

The path of healing is not an easy one, and involves each new generation, she noted, sharing moments of struggle and heartache in her own family. “All my life I’ve tried to do what I can to help people.”

See the full story on the Dioceesan website