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GUEST COMMENT: Norman Yakeleya's reflections of a residential school survivor during the holidays

Dene Nation chief Norman Yakeleya is awaiting comments from the territorial, federal and Indigenous governments to a new discussion paper on post-Covid economic recovery. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

I boarded the plane in Fort Norman, now known as Tulita, at the young age of six years old with my brothers and sisters. Little did I know my world as I had known it, and my way of being, would be changed forever.

From September to December of that year, I and many others in Grollier Hall and Stringer Hall, came face to face with the realization of the power and the influence of “education.” In this instance, a conformation to new way of life other than what we had known in our homes and communities. After being inside a residential school for many months, I had to adapt, adjust and assimilate into to a new way. I slowly forgot about many things back home … until the day we were told that we were going to Fort Norman for Christmas. My morning and evening prayers had been answered! We were going home. I kept asking my older brother when.

Just as I am asking Canada now, when will the remaining Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations and Calls to Action be fully implemented? As we move to the fifth year of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we owe our gratitude to Commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild, Senator Murray Sinclair and Marie Wilson Kakfwi, as well as other key contributors, for their tenacity and commitment to listening to all residential school survivors across Canada.

We commend their pledge to honour the truths told by the families and survivors in recognition of the impact that their experiences had on their lives and relationships. We call forth Canada and others, including survivors, to walk the path of reconciliation towards finally getting things right. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report is a living document transformed by our communities.

The holiday season is a special time. It provides us with an opportunity for personal reflection and to listen to the stories of our Dene people. For myself, as a residential school survivor, it meant that at the age of six years old, having been away from my mom and stepfather and younger brother and sister and my grandparents for many months, and later many years, I finally got to go home.

We have come a long way. Today we teach our young ones that the opportunity to rewrite the future is now. We must all learn about the impacts and the legacy of residential schools and recognize that we have a collective responsibility to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action and walk together in the spirit of reconciliation.

May these holidays and the new year be a time to rejoice and reflect. Stay safe and continue to pray for the ones who didn’t come home from residential schools.

As Chief Sitting Bull once said, “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

Wishing you all a happy and safe new year,

Norman Yakeleya
Dene National & AFN Regional Chief