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Group IAP gives claimants a sense of family

June 10, 2015

Many former students who receive compensation for abuse at Indian Residential Schools feel the need for healing during the process and after their claims have been resolved. “I’m still having a lot of problems, I’m still seeing a counsellor after my hearing,” said Dorothy Hornan, a former student at the Cross Lake St. Josephs residential school in Manitoba.

“I hurt, I hurt a lot,” said another woman from the Winnipeg area, who asked that her name not be used. “I will never quit healing. I will always keep dealing with stuff,” she said of the time she spent at Fort Alexander Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

Fortunately, the two women found each other, and joined eight others with common experiences in the Moving Forward group in the Winnipeg area, which was funded under Group IAP. Group IAP is a healing and reconciliation initiative administered by the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat.

The Moving Forward group came together in 2014 and received $35,000 to organize activities that would further their healing. Their activity plan included a mix of counselling, traditional and cultural teachings and celebrations. They participated in mental health workshops and sessions on building assertiveness and self-esteem led by a therapist. The also learned about trauma, coping, grieving and forgiveness. Their plan included a genealogy workshop, and training on computers so they could keep in touch with each other electronically once their group activities were completed.

The Moving Forward ladies took quilting and sewing lessons and learned how to sew star blankets.

“What we did was good things, happy things,” said Anne Thomas Callahan, who spent 14 years at two schools in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Ann will receive an honorary Doctorate from the University of Regina in June. “I guess being together, we became a family.”

Several of the activities helped members of the Group rediscover their Aboriginal roots and culture, which were suppressed at Residential Schools. “All my life I wanted to be French, I was ashamed of being Aboriginal,” said Cecelia Marie Pelletier, who spent time as a child at four separate schools. “By joining this group I was admitting that I am.” During the genealogy workshops, Cecelia and her colleagues learned how to create family trees, and gained a greater appreciation about the movement of their ancestors and Canadian Indigenous historical timelines.

The Moving Forward ladies took quilting and sewing lessons and learned how to sew star blankets. “We learned how to do that and that’s part of our culture,” said Ms. Saunders, who attended Norway House United Church Residential School in Manitoba as a day student. “We are trying to retrieve it all. This is what we would have been taught, probably, by our families.”

To help reconnect with their Aboriginal heritage, several of the women were also given Spirit names during a sweat lodge ceremony.

Groups in the program are eligible to receive $3,500 per participant, and must present an activity plan in order to receive funding.

They must be incorporated, or associated with an incorporated non-profit group. All members of groups selected for funding must have had their individual claims for compensation accepted into the Independent Assessment Process, and must share a common bond.

The Moving Forward Group worked with the Anish Corporation, a non-profit organization that delivers health-related programs and services to former students of Indian Residential Schools. “The group members were able to learn, self-evaluate and take ownership of their healing journey,” said Deborah Wilde, a Resolution Health Support Worker with Anish Corporation who helped bring the group together. “They also learned to deal with conflicts and trauma in a better way.”

“The best thing about this group is we’re learning to get our self-respect back”

-Dorothy Hornan

“The best thing about this group is we’re learning to get our self-respect back, which we lost along the way,” said Hornan. “I thought I was always alone, and nobody else had to go through what I did, not realising that there was others out there. Knowing that I wasn’t alone, and being with these ladies and sharing, laughing, crying, it was good for me and I’m sure it was good for a lot of the ladies,” she said. “I met a lot of wonderful ladies here, and they’ve became my family.”

Callahan felt the program was beneficial because it allowed participants to establish trusting relationships in a safe environment. “We got to know each other. We got to trust each other. Whatever the other person said, we respected that,” said Callahan.

“For me, being in this group makes me feel like I can live a better life and move forward with my life and not get stuck in the pain of the abuse from the Residential School,” said Saunders.

Funded groups under Group IAP have one year to complete all of their activities.

Even though their funding has been used up, the women in the Moving Forward Group plan to keep in touch, and are considering writing a book. “We don’t want to say goodbye, we want to continue,” said another group member who attended the Pine Creek Residential School. “We’ve been a family. I just want to keep going, I don’t want to stop.”

Funding for new groups under the Group IAP program for 2015-16 will be announced this summer. A new call for proposals, for funding for groups in 2016-17, will be released in September 2015.

Women in the Moving Forward group received training on computers so they could keep in touch with each other electronically once their group activities were completed.

Editors’ Note: The Moving Forward Group volunteered to participate in efforts to promote Group IAP and several members gave their consent to be identified publicly. The Group IAP program does not reveal the names of group members who have received funding without prior consent.