“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm and has no place in our country… The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly. We are sorry.”
– Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizing for Canada’s Assimilation Policy and Residential School System, 2008.
During the final portion of OLIP’s trip to Six Nations, we were met by The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the Hon. Dave Levac (MPP for Brant) who accompanied us on a tour of the Woodland Cultural Centre; a former residential school called the Mohawk Indian Residential Institute, or known to survivors as “the Mush Hole” (this term was given to denote the poor quality of food provided to the children who attended).
Residential schools were government sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into European-Canadian culture around 1880. Around 150,000 Indigenous children attended these schools and according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 4,000 children died while attending. The last school to close its doors was the Gordon Residential School in Punnichy, SK in 1996.
The Hon. Levac has vested personal interest in the Mush Hole, not only because it is a historically significant place in Canadian history and is located in his riding, but because he has friends who are survivors – he used to walk across the yard on his way to school and did not know what was happening behind its large, imposing brick walls. Yet, on our tour we learned as many of these secrets as were shared by our tour guides, as had been recounted by survivors to them.
During our heart-wrenching tour we were recounted the stories of malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, and even the burial of children on the grounds. Stories far too graphic and personal to be retold on this platform. However, we would encourage all who can to visit and learn this powerful history for themselves.
The Mush Hole stands today as a representation of an important, horrific, shameful, yet largely forgotten part of Canadian history. Unfortunately as OLIP witnessed, this important historical landmark is in a state of disrepair. The Woodland Cultural Centre provides as many as possible with the opportunity to learn about this untold era of Canadian History and to strengthen the ‘common humanity’ that moves us all towards the uncertain future. In honouring this legacy, they have created a necessary fundraising campaign named ‘Save The Evidence’.”
We would like to thank the Hon. Dave Levac and the Woodland Cultural Centre for the deeply powerful tour. This is not a day that we will soon forget.